ST. JOSEPH — On a cool, fall night, what’s better than a little fire?
Volleyball senior Shelby Simmons lit one Thursday night.
Inside the St. Joseph-Ogden gym. Inside the hearts of her teammates.
With the Spartans trailing 18-10 in a third-set tiebreaker against Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Simmons offered a simple declaration following a timeout.
“We’re standing around like a bunch of Huckleberry Hounds,” she said.
Her teammates didn’t roll their eyes.
“It’s Shelby,” said Ashley Jones, another of the Spartans’ three seniors.
“Very motivational,” added the third senior, Jaz Kates.
SJ-O didn’t heat up immediately, but it did something almost as important. It began cooling down the Panthers.
The Spartans pulled within two points, then fell behind by three, then not only caught up, but also built a two-point lead (21-19). That was before three kills by PBL’s Kellyn Maynard put PBL in position to win, 24-22.
Simmons would have none of that, delivering one of her match-high 19 kills on a back-row attack as SJ-O scored the last four points to successfully rally from a one-set deficit in the Sangamon Valley Conference match.
“We fought hard and proved we have what it takes to win,” Kates said.
SJ-O (18-8) was in the position to win because Simmons hammered 10 second-set kills to force the tiebreaking set. SJ-O’s win was 19-25, 25-16, 26-24.
“We’ve been underdogs all season,” Simmons said. “Tonight we came out to have fun. It was the seniors’ last time (playing) on this court.”
SJ-O coach Abby McDonald expected consistency to be an issue. Simmons was the lone returning full-time starter.
“Our goal this year was to learn because we don’t have the experience we’re used to,” McDonald said. “We’ve lost so many close matches, and been in that position (to pull out a win). We know we can get ourselves out of it.”
Simmons isn’t the only senior contributing. Jones served the decisive point in the second set and, McDonald said, “comes early and stays late (at practice). I’m proud of her for being comfortable in that role as a server.”
Kates is a converted left-side hitter.
“We moved her to the right side,” McDonald said. “She doesn’t have the experience, but she has the senior maturity, which we need.”
Karlie Baker had 24 assists against PBL SJ-O teammates Rachel Mullen and Emily Suits each had 14 digs.
Maynard led PBL with 10 kills. Kailey Kleinert had 10 kills and seven blocks. Sarah Watts added nine kills.