BELLEVILLE — The Edwardsville Tigers needed a win Tuesday and they got it.
The Tigers visited a rowdy Belleville West gym and rode an emotional roller coaster to top the Maroons 22-25, 25-17, 25-19. The win secured the Southwestern Conference championship for Edwardsville, its first outright league crown since 2012. EHS and the Maroons shared it in '13, West won the crown in '14 and the Tigers, Maroons and O'Fallon Panthers shared the title in '15.
It was an important goal for Edwardsville, which improved to 25-4 overall and a perfect 7-0 in the SWC with the win.
“It means a lot to us,” EHS junior Rachel Pranger said. “And it's our first for our seniors so way to go out with a bang.”
Edwardsville head coach Jami Parker was happy for her girls Tuesday and glad to see them charge back and achieve their top regular season goal — an outright SWC championship.
“That was one of the goals for the girls this season, to take conference and to not share it with anybody,” Parker said. “You saw the excitement in the huddle after the game, because they were pretty excited to accomplish that goal.”
For the Maroons, who dropped to 21-7 and 5-1, it's back to the drawing board when they travel to Alton on Thursday for their final conference match. Head coach Lauren DiGirolamo knows her squad will recover and could see the Tigers again in the sectional semifinals during the postseason.
“We’ve got to be able to bounce back from this,” DiGirolamo said. “I know the girls, on Senior Night and conference championship, were hoping for a different outcome. But Edwardsville’s a good team and they came out tonight and took it to us.
“Conference is always one of our goals at Belleville West. Unfortunately, this year we didn’t get it. But it’s not the end of our season.”
West came out strong with emotions high on its Senior Night. Edwardsville struggled with hitting and service errors in the opening game and quickly found itself behind to the Maroons, dropping the first set 25-22.
“The first game, they just took care of the ball better than we did,” Parker said. “They were playing clean. That was something we were definitely lacking.
“I was proud of the girls, they came right back out the second game and they were ready to go, they weren’t intimidated by it.”
Volleyball is a momentum driven game, but it can shift quickly and EHS took the reins fairly early in Game 2.
The Tigers actually never trailed in the game. Pranger and fellow junior Kate Martin did an excellent job with tipping in the second game and painting the back corners with their accurate shots.
“That’s something that we’ve been working really hard on in the gym, just taking shots and being smart with the ball,” Parker said. “Kate took some pretty shots, Pranger was pushing the corners well. It was nice to see them take things out of practice and implement them in a game.”
EHS led 6-4 after a kill from Martin and started to pull away from there. The Maroons were never able to get closer than within two points the rest of the way and kills by Pranger late put Edwardsville up 23-15 and 24-16, its biggest leads of the game, before winning by an 8-point margin, 25-17.
The Tigers exposed the back line defense of West in the second game. DiGirolamo gave them props for their game plan.
“They made some adjustments, picked our defense apart with tipping and we weren’t able to pick it up,” she said. “And we got ourselves in a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
The Maroons adjusted their defense in Game 3, but the big swinging at the net returned for EHS.
A kill by freshman Maria Smith put the Tigers up 8-7 and kick started a 10-2 scoring spree, leaving them ahead 17-9. Kills from Pranger, Martin and Smith highlighted the spurt.
“Once we'd started tipping they got used to that and we had to go back to swinging,” Pranger said.
But West didn't go away quietly. Spurred by some stellar defense, the Maroons were able to dwindle the deficit all the way down to 18-17 and got within striking distance of the win.
“(West) got in a spell there where it just played some tremendous defense,” Parker said. “They were pulling balls up, they were pulling balls off the walls and they were working, they were working very hard. It definitely gave us a run, but I think the strength of these girls is they don't get too emotional ever and they sit in there and get down to business.”
A kill from Martin pushed Edwardsville ahead 19-17 and it was able to outscore the Maroons 7-2 down the stretch to close out the match. Smith and Martin had kills to spur the spree.
Pranger led the way with 21 kills for the Tigers, while Martin chipped in with 15. Rachel Verdun paced the strong net attack with 42 assists. Verdun also led the defense with 16 digs, while Nicki Meyer had 15, Megan Woll had 14 and Martin had 13. The EHS defense produced 72 digs as a team.
Now Edwardsville will turn its attention to the Lyons Township Tournament this weekend in Chicagoland. The Tigers then delve into postseason play next week in the Class 4A Alton Regional.
Pranger believes Tuesday's win provides a big confidence boost for a nice EHS run down in the postseason.
“It's going to help us in Chicago this weekend and then that will carry over to regionals, so we're really ready for the end of the season,” Pranger said. “We're excited.”