ROXANA — On an emotional night at Milazzo Gymnasium the Marquette Catholic Explorers slipped by the host Roxana Shells in three games, 17-25, 25-16, 25-21.
With the win Marquette is now 14-9 on the season, while Roxana dipped to 12-14 with the loss Thursday.
Playing for breast cancer awareness and playing without head coach Mike McKinney, who is on a leave of absence with the passing of his mother, it was an emotional time for the Shells. The night also meant a lot to Marquette head coach Sue Heinz, who is a breast cancer survivor herself.
And with emotions running high, it made for a grueling night of volleyball.
The win for the Explorers snapped a two-match losing skid.
“We needed this win tonight because the girls were down and the confidence level was shaken a little bit,” Heinz said. “We definitely needed that, but you can't take anything away from Roxana. They played a great game and there was many times I thought the ball was down and they got to it. They were quick and they played with a lot of heart.
“I'm proud of them for putting this on tonight. I'm a cancer survivor myself.”
In McKinney's absence, Roxana freshman coach Danielle Schaus has taken over the varsity coaching duties. Schaus said it's been an adjustment period for the Shells. Thursday marked the third match she has had the reins of the team. McKinney left after the completion of the Morrisonville Tournament on Saturday and is out indefinitely at this point.
“We've had a tough week with (McKinney) being out and the girls adjusting to me and then the excitement of tonight,” Schaus said. “They came to play, but they've been a little shaken up. I think they did what they could and with (Marquette) being as good of a team as they are they ran some different stuff and we had to adjust. I think we did pretty well with it, it just didn't fall our way.”
The Shells came out of the gates strong on Thursday. They raced out to a 3-0 lead and then an 8-4 advantage before the Explorers bounced back to take a 12-11 lead.
That proved to be Marquette's only lead in Game 1. A service error allowed Roxana to knot it at 12-12 and then consecutive kills by Braeden Lackey catapulted the Shells back on top 14-12.
Roxana led 21-17 when it reeled off four straight points to close out Game 1 with a 25-17 win. Kara Meyer provided the exclamation point with a kill to close it out.
When the Explorers returned to the court for Game 2, Heinz had an adjustment to her lineup. Junior Laura Hamilton slid into the libero position and the switch seemed to spark Marquette.
“Laura has been passing a little bit better, so that's what I had to go to,” Heinz said. “Our passing was off that first set and you can't run an offense without passing.”
The Explorers took a 2-0 lead and expanded it to 8-4. Roxana would shave it to 10-9, but a kill by Brittany Pace pushed Marquette ahead 11-9 and the Explorers were able to stretch it to 13-9.
The Shells got it back to three at 16-13 and 17-14, but Marquette was able to outscore them 8-2 the rest of the way.
The Explorers got some good serving in Game 2, putting down four aces. Brittany Pace, Anna Daugherty, Caitlyn Hanlon and Katie Gierer served aces in the set.
Tied 1-1, it set up a grueling third game that saw some marathon volleys. Unfortunately for the Shells, all the long volleys seemed to fall in favor of the Explorers.
Roxana was only able to grab a 1-0 lead and ties at 8-8 and 10-10. The rest of the game belonged to Marquette.
The Explorers enjoyed a comfortable 21-14 lead after a kill by Andria Pace, but the pesky Shells scratched back to 21-19. A Marquette service error sparked a 5-0 run by Roxana, highlighted by kills from Abby Palen and Meyer.
In the end the Explorers were able to hang on though, closing out the match on a kill by Daugherty, their leading hitter.
“I couldn't ask the girls to play harder than what they did,” Schaus said. “Marquette is a very good team and I think we played very well, but it just wasn't quite enough. It doesn't fall the way you want sometimes, but overall I'm very proud of what they did tonight.”
Heinz thought the third game was a great test with the postseason lurking around the corner. It gave her a chance to work players in and get some good competition.
“I've got a great bench and right now I'm trying to work out some bugs,” Heinz said. “If somebody's off I have to get someone else in there and perform for me and they did.”
Statistically, the Explorers were fueled by setter Marissa Nosco's 28 assists. Daugherty had 11 kills, while Brittany Pace supplied nine and Michelle Cameron had eight. Nosco and Brittany Pace had 10 service points, with Pace and Daugherty picking up three aces apiece. Pace picked up a team-high nine blocks, while Cameron had five.
Defensively, Hamilton made a difference with a team-high 22 digs. Nosco added 14, Daugherty had 13 and Gierer chipped in with 12.
For the Shells, Meyer had a team-high 11 kills, while Taylor Westfall contributed eight and Palen had five. Westfall guided Roxana with 10 service points and 20 digs also. Keely Reardon also had 13 digs, while Niah Bevolo dished out 17 assists to help steer the offense.
The Shells return to action in the Red Bud Tournament against Granite City at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Marquette is idle until 7 p.m. Tuesday when it travels to Waterloo to face the Gibault Hawks.