Wallen, STM power way to victory
CHAMPAIGN — The only thing missing from Lexi Wallen's uniform Thursday night was the cape, but she still turned in a terrific rendition of a super-woman performance without it.
The St. Thomas More sophomore pounded a match-high 25 kills — 13 in the decisive final set — as the Sabers overpowered Watseka 25-21, 18-25, 25-21 in a Sangamon Valley Conference volleyball match.
"Outside of Carly Hill (a two-time Area Player of the Year at Monticello in 2000 and 2001), Lexi is the best I've ever coached," Sabers coach Brad Dalton said.
"Carly was special. Lexi is only a sophomore but plays well beyond her age. She can hit from anywhere on the floor, and she is able to see the floor so well."
The 6-foot Wallen capped her night with kills for the match's final two points.
For the 24th and 25th points of the third set, Hannah Murray delivered the ball to Wallen in the back row.
"We've worked on that a lot," Wallen said. "That's been one of our options."
The plays were called from the bench.
"We had two options," Dalton said, "run middle or go to Lexi if we were out of system."
Wallen finished with more kills on back-row attacks (five) than she had hitting errors (four). She took 43 total swings, and her hitting efficiency was .442. Wallen's 13 digs were one behind team leader Brooke Plotner.
In a sport where teams often capitalize on opponents' errors for many points, St. Thomas More (9-7) earned 21 of its 25 third-set points on kills, blocks or aces. For the match, 79.4 percent of its points were earned in that manner, not given as the result of errors.
"We clicked," Dalton said. "We have some attackers, and it's not just Lexi."
Courtney Wax landed seven kills for the Sabers, and Louisette Lukusa added six.
The 5-foot-8 Lukusa, a junior, also had a team-high five blocks.
"When her mind is right, she is incredible," Dalton said. "She jump-touches over 10 feet and does things kids shouldn't be able to do."
Watseka's defensive prowess prevented Wallen from eclipsing the 30-kill mark. Libero Natalie Castonguay had a team-high 16 digs for the Warriors (14-2), and defensive specialist Kaity Johnson had eight.
The youthful Sabers started three sophomores and one freshman against Watseka. Dalton said the team is making good progress.
"We're not worried about being good in early September," he said. "We want to be good in late September and early October."
With inexperience at setter, Dalton didn't anticipate a quick getaway this year.
"Hadley (Murray, senior) hadn't set since junior high, and Hannah (Murray, sophomore) has extraordinary hands but is learning how to run an offense," Dalton said. "The rest of the kids are learning the offense."
Hannah Murray had 22 assists against Watseka. Plotner ended with a team-high five aces.
Compounding the development is a schedule that featured nine Class 3A or 4A opponents for the Class 2A Sabers in their first 14 matches.
Wallen said the school with four consecutive regional titles, however, has made a smooth transition to its first-year head coach.
"Our team has adapted pretty well," she said, "and kept what we had going."
Kat Grimes had 21 assists and three aces for Watseka. Taylor Bauer led the Warriors with 14 kills. Allison Kaper had seven.
Kaper had three successive kills for points at the end of the second set, which Watseka secured with a 5-0 run.
Wallen said the key for the Sabers in the tiebreaking set was to have a short-term memory.
"We tried to forget about the second match," she said. "I was focused on keeping the ball in play, and keeping the play going. Today, we developed good team chemistry."