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The Vandalia volleyball team took a major step toward a South Central Conference East Division title Thursday night, beating eight-time defending champion Pana on the Lady Panthers' home floor, 25-16, 16-25, 25-17.
"Pana was a huge win - huge," said Lady Vandals coach Allison Smith of the team's first victory over the Panthers since 2004. "We came out and just played phenomenal."
The Lady Vandals picked up a similar victory earlier in the season against another team that's had its number of late, topping archrival Greenville at home.
But the key to VCHS getting over the hump and winning its first-ever outright SCC-East title will likely be its ability to avoid upsets to teams it is expected to beat.
"At this point in the game, everybody can come out and beat somebody on any given night," Smith said. "And that's something we talk about every night before the games, 'Hey, tonight could be the night that they come out and upset us.'"
Greenville fell into that trap Thursday in a loss to Staunton.
So the Lady Vandals' ability to take care of business against the same team Tuesday in a 26-24, 25-16 win over the Lady Bulldogs could have huge implications on the league race when its all said and done.
Vandalia's fifth win in a row gives it a one-game lead over atop the conference standings over Greenville, Hillsboro and Pana, all of which are sitting at 3-2 with five league matches remaining.
"For the most part, I'm pretty pleased with where we stand so far as far as the conference standings," Smith said. "But we've got to come and stay focused if we want to end up No. 1 in the conference."
Staunton looked poised for another upset bid early on, as it raced out to an early six-point lead in the first game time thanks in large part to strong serving.
The Lady Bulldogs fifth ace of the early going gave it a commanding 13-7 lead, prompting a timeout by Smith.
"We were just standing and waiting for things to happen," Smith said. "When I called the timeout, I said, 'Hey, we've got to get moving.'"
The Lady Vandals responded with a 10-3 run capped by a Calista Eyman ace that gave them a 17-16 lead.
Staunton refused to go away, however, as the teams traded points until the game was tied at 24.
An Amanda Walton kill put Vandalia on the brink of victory, however, and a strong Eyman serve forced Staunton into a poor set that led to a hitting error, allowing Vandalia to escape with a first-game victory.
An improved serve receive keyed Vandalia's turnaround, as the Lady Bulldogs had zero aces after following the aforementioned timeout.
"They did a nice job of changing that around and getting their butts in gear, basically," said Smith of her team's serve receive.
The improved serve receive carried over to the second game, allowing Vandalia's offense to kick into full gear.
"In the first game, we couldn't serve receive, so we couldn't get a good pass - then you can't run any offense" Smith said. "When we get a good pass, we run a great offense. That's what happened in the second game."
As a result, VCHS never trailed in drama free match-clinching victory.
Middle hitter Amanda Walton was particularly impressive, as she finished off a Vandalia 9-1 run that gave the Lady Vandals a 19-9 lead with a block, kill and a tip for a point.
Walton finished with four kills, three blocks and four digs. Shelby Cearlock chipped in three kills.
"Shelby and Amanda have played great all week," Smith said.
Stephanie Henna was a rock at the service line, going 12 of 13 with an ace, and she added five blocks on defense. Sophomore Taylor Parrish continued her fine recent play, hammering down four kills.
Eyman contributed three aces, stepping in for the injured Mary Davis at the service line.
"I thought she did a great job," said Smith.
Davis was limited to setting duties due to a shoulder injury. And MRI is forthcoming.
The Lady Vandals JV remained hot as well, rolling to a 25-12, 25-22 win. Individual stats are listed on page two. The VCHS freshmen fell, 25-20, 25-20.
Last Thursday's Result
Vandalia def. Pana
It was a balanced all-around effort for VCHS, as Walton led the way offensively and defensively with four kills and five blocks. Henna added three kills, three blocks and two aces, while Cearlock had three kills and two blocks.
Hagy chipped in three kills, and Davis had perhaps her best setting night of the season, finishing with 47 assists.
Sophomore Taylor Parrish added perhaps the best match of her young varsity career, serving up three aces.
"We served very well and hit the ball well, too," Smith said.
Thursday's 'Volley For a Cure'
Match at Greenville
The Comets and Lady Vandals will renew their rivalry and raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation Thursday in their first "Volley For a Cure" match.
"We want to support a good cause and play some good volleyball as well," Smith said. "We think it's going to be a great game. We've got a long road ahead of us. We didn't beat them very badly the last time, but I don't think we played very well when they were here."
The freshmen Lady Vandals improved to 9-2-1 on the year Saturday by finishing 2-1 at the Carlinville Jamboree.
Vandalia swept Alton Marquette (25-18, 25-14) and East Alton-Wood River (25-16, 25-14), but fell to the host team 30-28, 25-5.
Kati Cole led the Lady Vandals against Marquette with nine points, including two aces. Haley Wollerman added two kills, and she added eight points, including two aces, in the EA-Wood River victory. Wollerman also had two kills against Carlinville.