WOOD RIVER — It was a positive opening night for the Civic Memorial Eagles, but it wasn't without a valiant effort from the East Alton-Wood River Oilers.
The Eagles won their season-opener 25-10, 21-25, 25-18 at Memorial Gym in Wood River, spoiling the home opener for the Oilers. CM is now 1-0, while EA-WR dips to 2-2 on the young season. Its other three games came in pool play at the Roxana Tournament on Monday. The Oilers return to the Roxana Tournament for its final day on Saturday.
“This was the momentum we needed to get us going and we're going to carry it through,” said Amanda Biggs, third-year head coach of the Eagles.
While Biggs was ecstatic to get the win and see some stellar play from her squad Thursday — including 21 assists from junior setter Sydney Marshall — Oilers' head coach Patti Scott was equally happy with her team's effort.
“I told them afterward, it's a win for us,” Scott said. “They've got a great setter (Marshall), it's hard to read her and once we figured out what to do there and played as a team, that's where my win is. The six of them, no matter who they were on the court, played as a team and that's a win for me.”
The Eagles were soaring high in Game 1. Marshall served them to an 8-0 lead and they cruised to the win. They eventually led 16-6 and won the game 25-10.
A combination of CM being strong at the net and EA-WR making a slew of unforced errors led to the lopsided score.
Outside hitter Baleigh Gehrs of the Eagles was solid Thursday with a team-leading seven kills. She said it felt good to get started on a good note.
“It felt really good to be able to hit,” Gehrs said. “Even if I got one out or missed one I was able to get back and hit again.”
The Oilers came back with a vengeance in Game 2 though. The two teams traded points early until senior Lexie Johnson tipped a kill over the net to give EA-WR its first lead at 8-7. It seemed to rejuvenate the Oilers, which looked like a different team and it was Johnson leading that charge.
“Lexie is going to run this team,” Scott said. “She's got the knowledge and obviously some skill, but her ability to pull everybody together really makes the difference for our team.”
CM drew even again at 14-14 in Game 2, but then watched the Oilers build an 18-14 lead and go onto the 25-21 win. Johnson picked up kills on EA-WR's final two points in the game to put it away.
Game 3 saw another seesaw battle. There were nine ties in the game and some long volleys, but when Kaity Kappler put down a kill to slingshot the Eagles in front 17-16, they never looked back.
McKenna Geist then reeled off seven straight service points, including three aces, to put CM up 24-16. After two quick EA-WR points, Kennedy Carnes tipped a kill over the net to close out the game and the match.
Seeing her team deal with adversity was a treat for Biggs. It's something the Eagles didn't do well in a 6-23 campaign in 2014.
“I think it shows with those girls on varsity the experience they've had with being down and being through that and understanding that they can fight back and they can turn games around,” Biggs said. “They can control the situation.”
CM is guided by its seven-player junior class and Gehrs points to the group's comfort level together as a factor in their ability to handle adversity.
“We've all been playing together for a really long time, so we know each other better and we know how we all play,” Gehrs said. “We used to get down on ourselves and could never bring ourselves back up, but I think tonight we played really good and it felt good to win our first game.”
Gehrs was joined in the offense by Kappler and Cara Melton with five kills apiece. Geist paced the serving game with four aces, while Annika Ochs had 17 digs, Hannah Schmidt had two solo blocks and Carnes and Kappler had four assisted blocks apiece.
For the Oilers, Johnson paced the hitters with seven, while Christen Faulstitch chipped in with four and Brittany Grayson had three. Faulstitch had 12 assists, four aces and six service points, too. Johnson supplied three aces, seven blocks and five service points to accompany her kills.
Biggs is just sure that Thursday is the beginning of an improved season for her Eagles.
“It's definitely a confidence booster, but this isn't one and done,” she said. “This is just the beginning so now we've got to keep pushing and every night we have to build on the day before.”