JERSEYVILLE — Jersey head coach Bob Siemer summed it up when he said Civic Memorial and the Panthers are evenly matched.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, somebody has to win and Thursday wasn't their night in Jerseyville. The Panthers slipped by CM 26-24, 25-27, 25-18 in a dramatic three-game Mississippi Valley Conference marathon match.
With the loss the Eagles sank to 11-14-3 overall and finished up MVC action at 0-10. Jersey improved to 15-15 and 2-8.
“We're about as evenly matched as we can be,” Siemer said. “We've beat them three times, they've beat us once and every game has been within four or five points it seems like.”
CM met the Panthers in the Alton Invite, winning 20-25, 25-22, 15-11, then lost 15-25, 25-19, 25-17 in Bethalto and 25-21, 25-23 in the championship match of the Jersey Tournament prior to Thursday.
Trying to get over the hump vs. the Panthers has been frustrating after some tight matches for third-year CM head coach Amanda Biggs.
“Throughout the entire night it was point for point, a couple runs here a couple runs there on both sides,” Biggs said. “One thing Jerseyville does really well, is they know how to utilize their hitters and we struggled a little bit on the block as far as reading the hitters as well as we have been. On our side we were mixing up our hits and had two or three people consistently getting hits. It just comes down to who is going to make the least amount of errors in a match like this.”
CM shot out of the gates in Game 1 looking in control. It used a four-point spurt, capped by a kill by Hannah Schmidt, to take a comfortable 19-12 lead late in the game.
Jersey wouldn't go away though, as it inched closer. The Eagles stretched the lead to 23-18 and then the Panthers awoke.
A CM service error shifted it back to Jersey, which embarked on a 6-0 run to nab a 24-23 lead. Eagle sophomore Susan Buchanan kept it alive with a kill to knot it at 24-24, but the Panthers got a kill from Mackenzie Thurston to make it 25-24 and then closed it out for the 26-24 win.
Game 2 was mired in a seesaw battle. The set saw 10 ties between the two conference foes as neither could grab momentum.
A close out call on a Jersey hit, tying the match at 17-17 seemed to spark the Eagles and stagger the Panthers. Kaity Kappler of CM hit consecutive aces to make it 19-17.
The Eagles led 21-19 off a kill from Schmidt, when the Panthers reeled off a five-point span to set up match point, leading 24-21, but this time it was CM charging back.
Kills from Buchanan and Kennedy Carnes and an ace by Sydney Marshall tied it at 24-24. Jersey answered with a point, but two straight scores by the Eagles, including a kill by Carnes to close it out, forced a third and deciding game.
“We came back that second game and proved to them that we weren't going to quit,” Biggs said.
The Panthers bounced back in Game 3 though, never trailing on their way to the win. They led by as much as eight points at 12-4. CM got as close as 15-13, but could never climb in front.
The Eagles got it to 22-18 when Jersey raced on a 3-0 run to close out the game and the match.
Siemer believes Thursday was a huge positive as the Panther prepare to delve into the Class 3A Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin Regional at 6 p.m. Monday vs. Springfield Lanphier.
“This was nice because we beat (CM) twice in conference and we beat them for first place in our own tournament last Saturday,” he said. “We play in a very difficult conference, Mascoutah is very good, Highland is very good, and we feel like when we go to Springfield next week these are the types of games that are going to make us a better team and hopefully we'll be able to handle the stress of playing a high-pressure game.”
Biggs is happy she has the Quincy Notre Dame Tournament on Friday and Saturday to work out the kinks and put a little distance behind the heart-breaking loss on Thursday.
“That's why I love the Quincy Tournament,” Biggs said. “It gives us some momentum, it gives us a push that we can really use to build some confidence, get some good touches, some good matches in and really prepare us for the postseason.”
CM faces East Alton-Wood River at 7 p.m. Monday in the 3A Greenville Regional.
Statistically Thursday, the Eagles were led by Carnes with nine kills and Buchanan with six kills. Carnes also logged two solo blocks and nine assisted blocks. Marshall dished out 24 assists and had nine service points and two aces, while Kappler had a solo block, eight assisted blocks and a pair of aces. Defensively, Annika Ochs had 21 digs while Cara Melton chipped in with 11.