Marquette Senior Alyssa Herzing punches the ball over the hands of Staunton middle hitter Maddi Nichols on Tuesday in the Class 2A East Alton-Wood River Regional.
Staunton junior Maddi Nichols puts up a block on Marquette junior Brittany Pace on Tuesday.
WOOD RIVER — The Staunton Bulldogs closed out the Marquette Explorers in the semifinals of the Class 2A East Alton-Wood River Volleyball Regional on Tuesday at Memorial Gymnasium.
Staunton, winning the best of three, prevailed by scored of 25-17, 17-25 and 25-19. The Bulldogs improved to 13-15 and will play South Central Conference rival Gillespie at 6 p.m. Thursday for the title. The Explorers close the season at 11-15.
"It seems that we only face Marquette in regional matchups," Staunton head coach Mike Korte said. "I think everyone in this regional is quite equally matched when it comes to season record. Last year, we played Marquette in regional play and won the best of three, all by close scores."
Staunton took a quick lead in Game 1 jumping out ahead of the Explorers 7-2, but Marquette fought to narrow the gap. The Explorers, hampered by receiving mistakes, found themselves down after the first game.
The Explorers found their rhythm in the second game and took a 5-1 lead over the Bulldogs. Staunton tied the game at 5-5 before Marquette went on a five-point run. The Bulldogs never gained the lead as Marquette senior Alyssa Herzing put her team in command after a series of successful serves, including three aces. The Explorers finished out the second game with an eight-point win.
Staunton took the third game to oust the Explorers. The Bulldogs now face Gillespie, which ousted Southwestern 25-17, 25-21 in the other semifinal involving SCC squads.
Korte was pleased with his team's efforts and thrilled with the results of recent changes in the Staunton lineup.
"Tonight, Maddi (Nichols) was on it at the net," Korte said. "You would never know that we changed her position from outside hitter to middle hitter around midseason. She's really picking it up quick and learning as she goes. Sarah Williams, Devin Barrett, Karissa Pesavento and Shelby Augustine really wanted it. They are such strong players."
Nichols thinks the move she made is a benefit to the team.
"The position feels quite different," Nichols said. "I really like it, I'd almost say I prefer it now that I'm starting to get used to it. Tonight was such a big game and they (Marquette) are a tough team. We focused on playing aggressive and not tipping at the net."
Marquette head coach Sue Heinz reflected positively on her first season as head coach.
"Tonight, my girls couldn't have played better," she said. "We played hard and didn't make major mistakes. The (Andria Brittany) Pace girls have an appropriate leash on their intensity at the net, they know when to really let it go."
Herzing, a senior, praised Heinz for pointing the Explorers in the right direction.
"She's brought us together as a team," Herzing said. "Not to imply that I didn't like my previous coaches, but I wish I could have had more time with Heinz. She's good about pointing out what we need to fix, but keeps a positive attitude about it."
Herzing and junior Anna Daugherty each had three aces against Staunton. Daugherty and Brittany Pace both contributed six kills. Herzing led with 15 assists, while Brittany and Andria Pace both had four blocks. Senior Kalie Buecker came up with five digs.