It’s been nine years since the Edwardsville volleyball team won its own Tiger Classic and just as long since it started a season 6-0.
But the Tigers achieved both with one two-set win over O’Fallon on Saturday.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Rachel Pranger put down 13 kills and two blocks to lead Edwardsville to the 25-23, 25-21 win.
It was the host team’s first Tiger Classic championship since 2007 and its seventh in the 14-team tournament’s 33 years.
“All the teams in this tournament are really strong,” said Edwardsville coach Jami Parker. “We opened with Auburn yesterday and you could see improvement from the Auburn to the Morton game and from Morton to today. The girls improved and cleaned up the details one match to the next and that was important.”
After years of participation in the annual Carbondale Tournament, O’Fallon made the move to the Tiger Classic hoping to amp up the quality of its schedule. The Panthers placed third in 2015.
There were times I'd look out and think we were really doing some good things and other times I'd see things we need to work on. We couldn't string anything together.
Melissa Massey, O’Fallon head volleyball coach
Head coach Melissa Massey said she saw glimpses of the team she believes the 6-1 Panthers will eventually be, but was overall disappointed in Saturday’s outcome. In the meantime, the team is still looking for identity, she said.
“There were times I’d look out and think we were really doing some good things and other times I’d see things we need to work on,” she said. “We couldn’t string anything together. I’ve got six seniors on my team and none of them are the super vocal type. It’s like we’re still trying to find our niche and how we want to run our offense.”
O’Fallon battled back from an eight-point deficit late in the first set. Imani Williamson, an all-tournament pick, and Alison Fournie served four points each in a 9-3 run. Then Cassie Reno, O’Fallon’s other all-tournament team selection, scored a pair of kills to even the set at 22-all.
Pranger ended the rally with a big strike that hit an O’Fallon defender and bounced into the gym’s second level.
“I think anytime you get a block or a good kill the momentum is risen no matter who does it,” Pranger said.
All the teams in this tournament are really strong. The girls improved and cleaned up the details one match to the next and that was important.
Jami Parker, Edwardsville head volleyball coach
The second set was a near replay of the first, with the Panthers playing from behind despite very few lengthy runs by either team. Pranger got side out for the Tigers with a block on Reno, then three more consecutive points on kills to give her team a 16-12 advantage.
O’Fallon chased again late, getting four points on serves by Elise Smith, but Pranger sealed the set, match and championship with her 13th kill.
Parker said her back court players were the unsung heroes of the day. In addition to six Tiger blocks at the net, senior Nicki Meyer had a match-high 11 digs. Junior setter Rachel Verdun led Edwardsville with 22 assists.
“Nobody talks about it, but our setter did an outstanding job,” Parker said.” Rachel Verdun is truly the quarterback of our offense.”
Reno led O’Fallon with nine kills, while Smith added four kills and a match-high eight service points. Fournie led the Panthers with 17 assists.
O’Fallon next faces Mater Dei — the team it defeated in the Tiger Classic semifinals and eventual fourth-place finisher — at home Tuesday.
Edwardsville will be at home against St. Joseph’s Academy of St. Louis on Wednesday.