BETHALTO – Before her team played the Jersey Panthers in its regular season home finale on Monday, Civic Memorial coach Amanda Biggs hugged all seven of her seniors with tears rolling down her face during a brief pre-game ceremony.
Seniors Annika Ochs, Jenna Parmentier, Sydney Marshall, Kaity Kappler, Cara Melton, Kennedy Carnes and Baleigh Gehrs were honored before the match. All of them except Parmentier played with the CM volleyball program all four years.
“They're kind of my babies,” Biggs said. “They really boosted this program under their leadership and they set the example of what I expect this program to be. They are living up above and beyond the expectations that I have.”
The senior class is helping Biggs enjoy her best season in her four-year tenure as CM coach. After cruising to a 25-11, 25-17 win over the Panthers, the Eagles are 19-11-1 with one regular season match remaining.
“It's exciting,” Melton said. “We're just trying to come together and we're working hard in practice and we're working hard in games and we're just trying to finish. We really wanted that winning record this year because we haven't had one since 2010, so that was really important to us this year.”
The Eagles have won a season-high seven matches in a row. They were coming off their first Jersey Tournament championship on Saturday.
“We're definitely peaking at the absolute perfect time,” Biggs said. “We're running things better than we have in any of the four years that I've been here. These girls are performing above and beyond my expectations. It's so incredible to see what they are giving.”
CM finished 4-0 in the Jersey Tournament, including a win over Staunton in the championship match.
“We were definitely looking forward to this tournament all season because we played really well last year, but we just didn't finish,” Melton said. “This year, we came out to finish and I was really proud of us.”
All of the seniors turned in strong efforts against the Panthers in a match that lasted just 35 minutes. Marshall finished with 22 assists, Kappler had 14 service points with nine aces, Carnes had eight kills, Melton had six kills and 10 digs, Ochs finished with 10 digs, Gehrs had five kills and Parmentier, who is a transfer from Staunton, had seven digs.
“We really wanted to win our senior night,” Melton said. “Senior night was so important to the seven of us because we knew that this was it and we really had to come out and work hard and play the best to our ability.”
The Eagles stormed to a 10-1 lead in the first game. Kappler served nine of those points, including three aces.
With CM leading 24-17, Kappler ended the match with her ninth and final ace.
“We joked that Kaity went from rainbows to aces,” Biggs said. “She has really focused on her serving game and it has brought us points and it was giving us great runs.”
Jersey dropped to 9-18 overall and 0-9 in conference play. Faith Franke had five kills and four blocks to lead the Panthers, who lost to CM for the third time this season.
CM improved to 4-5 in conference play. A month ago, the Eagles snapped a 32-match conference losing streak. Now, they're looking to finish at the .500 mark in league play at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when they travel to Mascoutah. CM lost to the Indians in three games earlier in the season.
“We are definitely looking at Mascoutah as a great opportunity for us to get another win,” Biggs said. “If we continue to play our game, communicate well and get our points and have as many unforced errors as possible, we will be successful.”
The Eagles are guaranteed to finish with their first winning season under Biggs. They finished with just four wins in Biggs' first season as coach in 2013. They won six matches in 2014 and went 14-17-3 in 2015.
Biggs said when she was hired as the Eagles' head coach three years ago, her goal was to turn the Eagles into a successful program.
“I basically came in and said I want to produce a winning volleyball program,” Biggs said. “So far this year, we've accomplished that. I knew that it was going to take some time to kind of change the program with my thought process and my expectations. The girls have bought in. They lived by it and they produced and it's obviously working and we can get only better from here.”
Kappler, Marshall, Ochs, Gehrs, Melton and Carnes were freshmen when Biggs took over the CM program. Melton, who plans to attend Lewis and Clark Community College next year, said Biggs has been pretty helpful to her and her senior teammates.
“We all love her so much and we're so happy and thankful for her and all of the things that she does,” Melton said.