EDWARDSVILLE — The Edwardsville Tigers have their sights set on a Southwestern Conference championship.
Thursday night's 25-15, 25-18 win over the Alton Redbirds put the Tigers one step closer. EHS improved to 23-4 overall and 6-0 in the SWC with the victory, while the struggling Redbirds dipped to 14-18-1 and 0-6 with the loss.
Now Edwardsville can turn its focus in the conference to a showdown with Belleville West at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the road, going for its 9th SWC title in 10 years. The Tigers shared the league crown with West and O'Fallon last season. The Maroons are 5-0 in conference with EHS and Alton remaining on the docket.
The Tigers also welcome Mater Dei to Lucco-Jackson Gymnasium at 6 p.m. Monday for Senior Night and head to the Lyons Township Tournament in Chicagoland on Oct. 21-22.
Edwardsville is 14-1 in its last 15 matches, its only loss coming to Neuqua Valley at the Mizuno Classic at St. Charles East High School on Oct. 7. The Tigers went 4-1 in the tournament.
“We've got to beat Belleville West and win the conference,” EHS junior Kate Martin said. Martin led the Tigers Thursday with 13 kills. “Then we've got our last Chicago tournament and that will really get us ready for regionals. We've just got to push and fight and hopefully go really far this year.”
Thursday marked the 401st victory of EHS head coach Jami Parker's coaching career. Parker won No. 400 on Tuesday at Villa Duchesne. Parker was happy to reach the milestone and passed the credit to her current crop of talented players, the many great ones that came before, her coaches and her family.
“I'm truly blessed,” Parker said. “I've been blessed with great coaches, I have a phenomenal family that supports me. My parents, my mother and father-in-law, I couldn't do this without them and taking care of my family, my children and then my husband, doing what he does. My coaching staff, any one of these ladies could be coaching anywhere and they chose to coach with me and I'm blessed with this program at this school.
“I've had some phenomenal girls, phenomenal athletes, a great administration that backs you and some great parents that help us do all the things that we do.”
The family part may be the biggest portion of the equation. Parker has had the pleasure of learning from her mother, Fran Struble, the head coach at Carlinville High. Struble secured win No. 900 of her illustrious career on Thursday as the Cavaliers defeated the Staunton Bulldogs. Struble has steered the Cavies for 37 seasons.
“She's one of the most humble women I know,” Parker said of Struble. “It's a big number. It's a number that very few people in their lifetime will see. You can probably count it on your hands how many people are going to see that number.
“I'm so proud of her I can't even see straight. How many people can say they're one of the top coaches in the state doing that, especially she's a lady of character. She's character to the core and stands by her values, she's been there a long time, she's done it the right way. She's a great coach that loves her kids. She deserves this.”
Parker's Tigers have had a pretty nice run under her regime. She's been coaching the program since 2002 and has surpassed the 20-win mark in each of her 15 seasons, highlighted by 34 wins in 2011.
Alton will see its two-year streak of 20-win seasons end this year. The Birds have won more than 20 matches in two of the last three seasons, but have just 14 with one regular season match against West at AHS on Oct. 20. The Redbirds then play host to the Class 4A Alton Regional beginning Oct. 24. Edwardsville is the No. 1 seed in the regional pool.
Head coach Stacey Ferguson's squad could never get its footing against the talented Tigers on Thursday and hopes to find a good rhythm entering the postseason.
“We know we have to come in here and bring everything, do everything right all the time,” Ferguson said of playing Edwardsville. “We had moments where we did and then we had other moments where we were real slow and delayed on everything.
“I'm lucky that I have great girls that have great attitudes. I feel like they all want to be here and they all want to work hard and get better each night. It's just a little bit of convincing through some of the struggles to maintain the confidence to be able to go back out and battle. Anything that we could have been faced with this year, we've been faced with it. Hopefully we can keep pushing and get ready for a strong postseason and get ready for Chatham.”
Statistically on the night Martin was joined by Rachel Pranger in the net attack for the Tigers with 12 kills. Rachel Verdun set up the offense with 24 assists, while also supplying a team-high 17 service points. Martin, Pranger and Corrine Timmerman each had two assisted blocks in the win, while Megan Woll paced the defense with 11 digs.
For Alton, Sydney Schmidt dished out a team-high 10 assists. Savannah Fisher directed the Birds with 4 kills, 6 service points, 2 aces and 10 digs. Saddi Brands chipped in with 3 kills and Annie Evans contributed a solo block.