Civic Memorial's Julie Bruns digs a ball Thursday while teammate Summer Standefer looks on vs. Jersey on Senior Night.
CM's Cara Melton digs a ball against the Panthers on Thursday.
Head coach Amanda Biggs talks to the Eagles during a timeout Thursday on CM's Senior Night.
BETHALTO — A celebratory evening turned into a nightmarish night for the Civic Memorial Eagles on Thursday at home.
After soaring out to a quick lead against the Mississippi Valley Conference rival Jersey Panthers, CM lost in straight games 26-24, 25-10 on its Senior Night.
The loss sank the Eagles to 5-22 overall and 0-10 in the MVC. The Panthers improved to 16-13 and 2-8.
Troubles escalated quickly for CM after building a commanding lead in the first game. The Eagles took a 1-0 lead and didn't trail until it was 25-24 in favor of Jersey.
They led by as much as six points at 12-6 and 16-10. Tied at 4-4 early, freshman Susan Buchanan banged out a kill, Cara Melton picked up a pair of aces and Buchanan and Sydney Marshall combined for a block to double up the Panthers at 8-4.
Later, senior Saige Gehrs hammered a couple kills to help CM mount a 12-6 lead and a Jersey service error helped push it to 16-10.
A block by Gehrs and Kennedy Carnes later made it 21-18 and back-to-back kills by Gehrs and Melton had the Eagles in the driver's seat at 24-20, but that's when things came unraveled.
Jersey's Kristen Marshall got a kill and it sparked the Panthers. Two kills by Marshall, another by Lia Roundcount, a CM pass into the net and another unforced error by the Eagles helped the Panthers steal the victory.
“It shifted 180 degrees,” Jersey head coach Bob Siemer said. “When I called timeout we were down 20-17 and I told them, 'We can't keep trading points here. We're going to run out of points pretty quick. We need to get on a roll.' We reeled off six in the end. Aly Varble had missed a serve earlier and I was afraid she was going to miss another one, but she did a great job getting the serve in and we got the ball to Lia Roundcount who can hit very well and we came back to win and then it kind of carried over in the second game and we got on a roll.”
A shocked CM squad seemed befuddled the rest of the way, as Jersey rolled through Game 2. Roundcount and Marshall dominated at the net as the Panthers put together a pair of 6-0 streaks to cruise past the Eagles. They led by as much as 16-5 after a block by Roundcount and Ashton Kuehnel.
CM head coach Amanda Biggs was distraught afterwards, watching things crumble so swiftly.
“What we got away from in the end of that first game and in the second game was not playing at our level and not playing an offensively aggressive match,” Biggs said. “We were scared of free balls coming over, we were out of sync on our defense and we just didn't step it up.”
Lack of self confidence has plagued the Eagles much of the season and Biggs knows there isn't much time to correct that mental obstacle before the postseason begins. The Eagles will get back in action at the Quincy Notre Dame Tournament on Friday and Saturday and then play host to the Class 3A CM Regional beginning Monday. The fourth-seeded Eagles face No. 5 seed Hillsboro at 6 p.m. Monday.
“We have to work hard for our points and we have to earn them,” Biggs said. “Unfortunately when things aren't going our way, or something happens we just shutdown and look for a justification for why we didn't execute and why we didn't finish.
“We're looking at Quincy as our preparation for regionals and we're going to do whatever we can to get experience and gain some confidence heading into the regional that we can do this, we are a good team, we are a solid team and we can finish.”
But with a free-for-all expected in the regional with a bunch of evenly-matched programs, Siemer believes it's anybody's title to grab.
“I think CM will get to the championship game, I think they're good enough,” Siemer said. “I think they'll beat Hillsboro and I think they'll beat Greenville if they play as well as they did in the first game. They're much improved over the season. We played them early on and I think they're greatly improved. I look for them to get to the championship game and I hope we can get there. It's nice to play in this gym the week before to get used to this environment.”
Statistically, CM was led by Gehrs with seven kills and Melton with five, while Melton also had a pair of aces. Julie Bruns had a team-high 18 digs and Sydney Marshall dished out a team-best 10 assists.
The Eagles paid tribute to their six seniors prior to the match, honoring Bruns, Gehrs, Monica Ledesma, Tory Meiser, Summer Standefer and Alaina Trosley.
Biggs just hopes her team can rebound quickly and she is confident that will happen.
“The regional championship will go to whoever believes that they can win it and whoever wants it the most,” Biggs said. “Whoever steps up and owns the court will be successful and hopefully that's us.”