CHAMPAIGN — St. Thomas More made some blocking adjustments leading up to Thursday night’s Class 3A regional championship match against Mt. Zion. The Sabers knew the Braves’ attack ran through outside hitters Karlee McAtee and Emily Cole. Slowing them down was the goal.
Mission accomplished. St. Thomas More’s defense led the way in its 25-13, 25-18 sweep that delivered a fourth straight regional title and first at the 3A level after back-to-back state tournament appearances and a 2017 title in 2A. The Sabers (35-2) now move on to a 5:30 p.m. Monday sectional semifinal against Rochester in Mahomet.
“I thought we executed our game plan really well,” St. Thomas More coach Kelly McClure said. “We played strong volleyball. Our block and our defense really helped us pull through and come out ahead. I think there was just really good communication on the court about where their key hitters were and what they were doing. We were just able to put a solid block up against those key hitters.”
St. Thomas More’s back-row defense played a role, too, with Colleen Hege leading the Sabers with nine digs. McClure said the back row anchored the team’s defensive effort.
“They did such a nice job of reading the game,” McClure continued. “They would read tips. They would read angles. They were putting themselves in position to dig the ball. Colleen is always a great spark for us in the back row with her defensive hustle and plays that she makes.”
Anna McClure led St. Thomas More offensively with nine kills, while Allie Trame and Maris Green had three apiece. Setter Caroline Kerr finished with 15 assists, while Kylie Hopper had three aces.
“I think (Anna McClure) saw the court very well (Thursday night)” Kelly McClure said. “She was able to take big swings when she could. Caroline did a nice job of positioning the ball in the places where it allowed her to take really good swings.”
St. Thomas More’s sectional semifinal showdown with Rochester will be a rematch. The Rockets are responsible for one of the Sabers’ two losses this season, beating them in the championship of the Pana/Shelbyville Invitational on Oct. 12.
“It was tight,” Kelly McClure said of Rochester’s 26-24, 28-26 victory. “It will be a fun match, and the girls are looking forward to it.”