SJ-O volleyball finishes tourney in style
PAXTON — There will be a new Sangamon Valley Conference volleyball tournament champion next year.
Thursday’s winner, St. Joseph-Ogden, is heading to the Okaw Valley Conference once the next school year starts. That was the rallying cry for the Spartans, who were seeded fourth in the eight-team league event.
“We said, ‘Let’s take it home for the final time,’ ” SJ-O coach Abby McDonald said.
Her Spartans were up to the challenge. Three days after upending the top-seeded team, SJ-O took care of third-seeded Cissna Park 25-16, 25-12 Thursday night in the finals at Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
The Spartans did it with a balanced offense that accounted for 31 kills. Four players had at least four.
“A lot of people talk only about Shelby Simmons, and she’s a big part of our offense and defense,” McDonald said, “but we have others who step up and don’t play like freshmen and sophomores. They’re young, and it has taken a while to get the confidence.”
Simmons pounded 10 kills, sharing the team lead with freshman Kylie Michael. Sophomore Marissa McElroy had seven kills. Sophomore setter Karlie Baker (27 assists) enjoys the options.
“We’re young, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Baker said. “We’re still strong. I trust all of them to put it away.”
A kill by Simmons accounted for the clinching point in each set for the Spartans (21-8).
“We’ve been on a roller-coaster ride and needed to gain consistency,” McDonald said. “We’ve showed potential all season. Now we’re playing like a true varsity team. Besides helping us for the postseason, this lets them feel what it’s like to get a win like this and shows what they can do in the future.”
Hillary Hines and Addison Stoller each had four kills for the Timberwolves.
Third-place match. Lexi Wallen had a match-high 13 kills as St. Thomas More denied Watseka its 30th win in a 25-18, 25-21 win.
Both sets started with a kill by Wallen for the first point, though the Sabers’ first three kills in the opening set were by different players.
“A pretty good effort on offense and defense,” STM coach Brad Dalton said. “The defense was really there.”
After a semifinal loss, Dalton said a win was significant heading into next week’s loaded Gibson City 2A regional.
“This is pretty important,” Dalton said. “We’re not second-guessing ourselves now.”
Hannah Murray had 12 assists and Allie Kreie had eight assists to go with three service aces. Katie Gillette had 10 digs and Wallen eight.
Tori McCoy’s emergence this year has “allowed us to move the ball around,” Dalton said. “We’re not one-dimensional. We have another person who can put the ball away.”
McCoy totaled six kills. Wallen is one of the area’s leaders.
“She’s a special player,” Dalton said. “She has ‘terminate the point’ in her brain. That’s something you can’t teach.”
Watseka’s Maddie Pfingsten had 13 assists. Taylor Bauer had 10 digs and six kills. Hayley Gray had three blocks.
Fifth-place match. Eve Bahler had 22 assists for Paxton-Buckley-Loda (17-11-1) in a 25-13, 25-17 sweep against Momence. Kellyn Maynard had nine kills, and Kailey Kleinert had six kills. Jori Maynard had six digs and two service aces.