BETHALTO — The first game was a forgettable one for the Civic Memorial Eagles on Wednesday. The last two were forgettable for the Marquette Catholic Explorers.
The Eagles topped the Explorers 20-25, 25-13, 25-14 on Wednesday in their home opener. With the win CM improved to 2-0 on the young season, while Marquette dipped to 3-4.
Last year the Explorers earned bragging rights over the Eagles in Alton, so for junior setter Sydney Marshall getting the win Wednesday and moving to 2-0 was gratifying.
“We're definitely a lot more confident on the court,” said Marshall, who dished out 22 assists against Marquette and has 43 in two games so far. “It feels really good to have two wins. We can feel the improvement in a lot of our younger players who have a lot of experience from last year and they're really stepping up to the plate. I'm really proud of our team so far.”
Third-year CM head coach Amanda Biggs has stressed a more aggressive offense this season and with Marshall supplying crisp passes, the hitters are doing that so far and it's made a difference.
“It's one of the things we've been working on,” Biggs said. “I don't care if they're going to get a hitting error as long as they're swinging hard and being aggressive. We're taking control of the game offensively and that's definitely been working for us the last few matches.”
While Biggs was happy with the Eagles' performance, second-year Marquette head coach Sue Heinz was disheartened on Wednesday. On Tuesday the Explorers logged a 25-18, 25-23 win over Litchfield on the road, but she said they looked like a different team on Wednesday.
“We had over 20 digging errors, over 15 serve-reception errors, over 15 attacking errors and it's unacceptable,” Heinz said. “Coming off our win last night in Litchfield when we were 95 percent accurate with our passing, hitting, everything was on last night. Tonight we were just off.”
The Explorers weren't off early.
In Game 1 Marquette went up 7-4 and never trailed the rest of the set. Brittany Pace picked up her first of two aces in the game to help serve the Explorers on top. CM cut it to 11-9 on an assisted block from Kaity Kappler and Kennedy Carnes, but a kill from Anna Daugherty made it 12-9 Marquette.
The Eagles climbed as close as 16-14, but the Explorers reeled off a 6-0 spurt to go up 22-14 with Brittany Pace serving again. Michelle Cameron had a block, Andria Pace batted down a kill and Brittany Pace served an ace during the run as the Explorers went on to the Game 1 win.
“I think a little bit of nerves playing on our home court (in home opener) and a little bit of the pressure of our home fans kind of got to them a little bit and a lot of unforced errors and our mistakes, service errors, some tipping errors,” Biggs said. “There were definitely some things we needed to pull back in and control and that's what won us our second and third games.”
CM charged out to a 10-3 lead in Game 2 and Marquette never got closer than five points the rest of the way. Carnes had a trio of kills, a solo and an assisted block and a pair or aces in Game 2 to help pace the Eagles, including the game-clinching kill to force a third game.
And behind the offense was Marshall, who said settling in as the full-time setter this season is feeding her confidence.
“It's definitely helping in practices and getting reps in games,” Marshall said. “I'm getting a lot better coaching and my setting is definitely advancing better from that.”
Game 3 saw the Explorers fall behind quickly at 11-5, but a kill from Cameron spurred a five-point streak capped by a Daugherty kill to slice it to 11-10. They trailed just 13-12 when the Eagles kickstarted a six-point run of their own to go up 19-12 with Marshall serving. A pair of Kappler kills highlighted the spurt.
After the 13-12 lead, CM closed out the game and the match by outscoring Marquette 12-2. It was Carnes again supplying the match-winning kill.
“I told the girls it's confidence,” Heinz said. “I said when you make a mistake you've got to put it behind you and come out and be positive again. Don't think, 'Oh, I can't do that again,' because you're going to do it again. You've got to stay positive, mentally tough and that's a learning thing that comes with more experience.”
Biggs hopes the experience her girls gained from a 6-23 season a year ago is paying off in '15.
“The experience has helped, but we're just pushing through day by day and the 2-0 is a great start, but we've got to keep focusing on what's ahead and keep working toward our end goal.”
Kappler led the Eagles with seven kills, while Carnes and Baleigh Gehrs pitched in five apiece. Cara Melton had eight digs and two aces, while Marshall and Kappler also had two aces and McKenna Geist led with eight service points.
For Marquette, Daugherty guided the offense with five kills, Brittany Pace had three aces, Katie Gierer earned 15 digs, Marissa Nosco dished out nine assists and Cameron had a pair of blocks.
Next up for CM is a trip to Granite City at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, while the Explorers play host to Greenville at 6 p.m. Thursday.