St. Joseph-Ogden's Katelyn Berry (10) and Oakwood's Karsen Rupp (4) in a prep volleyball match at SJ-O High School in St. Joseph on Wednesday, September 11, 2019.

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ST. JOSEPH — Abby McDonald didn’t view Tuesday’s result as a setback.

Even if the scoreboard indicated her St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball team suffered a two-set loss to Champaign Central.That’s not to say McDonald’s athletes weren’t sufficiently motivated by being shut out inside their own venue.

The Spartans proved as much the following night.

Katelyn Berry’s 10 kills paced a well-oiled SJ-O attack Wednesday as the Spartans breezed past Oakwood 25-8, 25-10 in nonconference play.

“We don’t like to lose, especially on our home court,” Berry said. “So we knew, coming back the next day on our home court, we had to change something to get a win.”

From Berry’s perspective, that meant “getting out of our heads.”

That goes hand in hand with McDonald’s goal of ensuring the Spartans (6-2) are constantly “smarter than our opponent.”

“Being able to put the ball in places that will score and just working on reading more on our defense,” said McDonald, expanding on the intelligence concept. “The kids have really bought into that.”

Also working in SJ-O’s favor was the Comets (5-5) still trying to find their groove after departing five seniors in the offseason.

Although one of them, former setter McKenzie Doan, now is an assistant to Oakwood boss Lynn Anderson, the Comets’ reality is their varsity roster boasts just two seniors.

“I feel like I have the best ones on the court,” Anderson said. “This group, our sophomores, they may be decent when they’re seniors, but they’ve got some growing to do.”

Katelyn Young, a Murray State women’s basketball commit, joined Karsen Rupp in leading Oakwood with two kills apiece.

But after the Comets jetted out to a 2-1 lead in the opening set, it was all SJ-O.

And, as was the case in last year’s run to a Class 2A sectional final, that meant McDonald could rely on numerous contributors.

Reaching at least four kills Wednesday were Kennedi Burnett (six), Jenna Albrecht (four), Lacey Kaiser (four) and Payton Vallee (four). Emily Bigger also boasted a double-double with 24 assists and 12 digs.

Out of that group plus Berry, only Burnett and Vallee are underclassmen.

“Part of the reason we look so balanced is because of their experience,” McDonald said. “We’ve got kids that have played varsity pretty much at every position.”

One replacement required for the 2019 Spartans was at libero, after the graduation of News-Gazette All-Area first-teamer Bree Trimble.

Rylee Stahl has filled the void to McDonald’s liking, with the senior collecting five digs and two service aces Wednesday.

“I’ve loved every second of it,” Berry said of Stahl at libero. “She’s done as much as she could to get to every ball, and she’s done a good job of taking that spot.”

Anderson, meanwhile, acknowledged her squad’s latest outcome doesn’t truly indicate what shape the Comets are in, especially considering they posted a 5-1 record in Cissna Park’s Timberwolf Tip-Off Classic.

“They keep improving, but when you go against a team like this, they don’t look like they’ve improved,” Anderson said. “(SJ-O is) an excellent team, and we don’t know how to defend that yet.”

That’s exactly what McDonald wants to hear from more of the Spartans’ enemies, especially once Illini Prairie Conference play commences later this month.

“We’re not too worried about the wins and losses right now,” McDonald said. “It’s how can we develop to be ready when it counts.”


Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).