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ST. ELMO – St. Elmo High School’s volleyball team had been on a torrid pace since finishing fifth at the National Trail Conference Tournament three weeks ago.
Coming into their Class 1A Sectional first-round match on Tuesday, the Eagles had lost only one set since the NTC, while being crowned both the Egyptian-Illini Conference and regional champions.
But the team’s streak came to end against Raymond-Lincolnwood after the Eagles’ strength was challenged early and often by the 32-5 Lancers, who defeated St. Elmo, 25-18, 25-23.
“We did what was within our power,” said coach Elise Asher. “We played the way I expected (us) to play.”
In the first set, the Eagles (28-10) fell behind 4-0, which Asher said was a big difference-maker in the match.
“I’d like to have those four points back, because after that, we played pretty much point-for-point with them,” she said. “If we take those first four points away, we’re right in there within two plays of getting to play again Thursday night (for the sectional championship).”
St. Elmo never led in the set, but it did tie the match twice, at eight and 10, before falling victim to Lincolnwood’s crafty attacking, which combines power and finesse shots.
In the second set, the Eagles took an early lead of as much as six, but the Lancers chased down every loose ball and made some impressive saves to stay in the match.
“You just keep hitting it at them and hopefully catch them out of position,” Asher said. “Knowing that they’re going to defend and dig the ball up, you can’t be frustrated by it.”
The set was eventually tied at 21 and 23 before Lincolnwood used a tip kill to advance to the sectional final.
Asher said on Saturday, after her top-seeded Eagles defeated No. 2 Neoga in straight sets (25-23, 25-17) to win the Strasburg Regional Tournament, that getting a “reality check” after losing to Windsor and Dieterich in the NTC Tournament and making an adjustment to the team’s serving rotation sparked the winning streak.
“We knew going into the NTC that it was going to be a tough battle,” she said. “We weren’t so much concerned about our finish but what we took out of it, and we learned what we needed to.”
As for the new service rotation, Asher said she only used players with serving percentages higher than 90 percent.
The adjustment paid great dividends. In the regional final and sectional semifinal, the Eagles committed just four service errors.
“Kids at the line are serving at least 91 percent, and it’s making a difference, because it’s giving us an opportunity to play the ball,” she said.
Against Neoga, the Eagles served at 96 percent with only two service errors. They keyed on the idea of playing the ball, as just four of 49 serves landed for aces. St. Elmo again had just two aces against Lincolnwood.
Six players recorded kills for St. Elmo in the regional match, but more importantly, seven Eagles combined for 37 digs. Extending points is something every team strives to do, and St. Elmo did it as a team on Saturday.
“It’s a team effort, and it was all along,” Asher said before gushing about nearly all of her players.
The final point of the first set, which St. Elmo led the entire time after taking a 2-1 advantage, with the exception of ties at five and 11, exemplified the team play aspect.
After two clean passes off a Neoga serve, Brooke Maxey sent a tip across the net, which was recovered by the Indians. Megan Durbin then attacked after two more St. Elmo passes, but that spike was recovered, too. Neoga would commit an attack error to end the point, though.
The Indians took a 4-1 lead in second set, but the Eagles would not trail after a 6-6 tie, eventually winning on an authoritative kill by Maxey.
Tuesday, Nov. 2
Set 1: LHS 25, SEHS 18
Set 2: LHS 25, SEHS 23
Kills – B. Maxey, 7; Savannah Feezel, 2; Durbin, 1; Perry Manley, 1, Britani Beasley, 1.
Service Aces – Beasley, 1; Feezel, 1
Blocks – Manley, 1; Beasley, 1; Feezel, 1.
Assists – Beasley, 11.
Digs – Abby Hill, 6; Manley, 2; Morgan Myers, 2; Durbin, 1; Beasley, 1; Feezel, 1; Heather Siebert, 1
Record – 28-10
Saturday, Oct. 30
Set 1: SEHS 25, NHS 23
Set 2: SEHS 25, NHS 17
Kills – B. Maxey, 8; Myers, 4; Beasley, 4; Feezel, 2; Durbin, 2; Manley, 1.
Service Aces – B. Maxey, 2; Beasley, 2.
Assists – Beasley, 14; Manley, 1.
Digs – B. Maxey, 11; Manley, 8; Hill, 7; Myers, 4; Beasley, 4; Seibert, 2; Feezel, 1.
Record – 28-9
Wednesday, Oct. 27
Set 1: SEHS 25, SSHS 21
Set 2: SEHS 25, SSHS 13
Kills – Beasley, 6; B. Maxey, 5; Myers, 3; Manley, 3; Durbin, 3; Feezel, 1.
Service Aces – Siebert, 1; B. Maxey, 1.
Blocks – Manley, 1; B. Maxey, 1.
Assists – Beasley, 15; Manley, 2.
Digs – Hill, 8; B. Maxey, 8; Myers, 6; Manley, 4; Beasley, 4; Feezel, 1.
Record – 27-9
Wednesday, Oct. 27
Set 1: SEHS 25, BHS 10
Set 2: SEHS 25, BHS 15
Kills – B. Maxey, 11; Durbin, 7; Myers, 4; Katie Stites, 1.
Service Aces – B. Maxey, 1; Stites, 1; Durbin, 1.
Blocks – Beasley, 3; Durbin, 3; B. Maxey, 2; Feezel, 1.
Assists – Beasley, 20; Manley, 1.
Digs – Myers, 7; B. Maxey, 4; Beasley, 3; Manley, 2; Durbin, 2; Hill, 2.
Record – 26-9