ROXANA — The Roxana Shells spikers are off to a good start, 3-1 on the young season.
The Shells finished third at the Roxana Tournament on Saturday. After winning their pool and making it into the final four on Saturday, Roxana fell 25-23, 25-10 to Calhoun in the semifinals and recovered to beat Jersey 25-23, 25-21 in the third-place match.
Mount Olive earned the tournament championship, defeating Calhoun 19-25, 25-16, 16-14 in the title match.
“I'm loving it. I'm having fun, (the girls) are having fun,” Roxana head coach Mike McKinney said. He picked up his 300th win on Monday in a three-game win over Civic Memorial “Being 3-1 right off the bat is a good start for our year.”
Junior outside hitter Braeden Lackey certainly loved the way her team performed throughout the tournament, especially on Saturday by bouncing back against the Panther after the loss to the Warriors.
“It was awesome and fun,” Lackey said. “Last year I played and we didn't get a trophy. It was fun to get a trophy this year.
“I think we all keep a positive attitude and that's what helped us a lot. Losing to Calhoun and then coming right back and beating Jersey was really good. We just all stayed positive. I think last year people got down on themselves and it brought other people down, but this year people bring themselves back up and it brings everyone else up.”
The Shells started their Saturday strong. After falling behind 8-3 and later 13-8 to Calhoun off of a service error, they clawed back to take a 14-13 lead. Lackey sparked the 6-0 run with a kill.
The Warriors were able to tie it at 14-14 and the game turned into a seesaw battle. Taylor Westfall logged a couple of kills late to keep it close, cutting Calhoun lead to 22-21 and 23-22. Roxana was within striking distance at 24-23 when the Warriors put it away.
Early in the second game the Shells remained close also. Westfall and Lackey had multiple kills apiece to have Roxana down just 10-7 when Calhoun went on a run.
Senior Grace Baalman, bound for Kentucky on a softball scholarship, became too much to contain for the Shells. The Warriors reeled off a 12-0 run with Baalman hammering down six kills over that span. It was Baalman that buried the final spike in the coffin on match point.
“The first game when we battled them point for point and lost 25-23, we thought, 'Hey we can play with these guys,'” McKinney said. “It was 10-7 that second game and then they started setting Baalman every time. We tried triple blocking, a fake double block, a slide block, there was just nothing we could do.”
Baalman finished with 10 kills and 17 more attack points in the win. Lackey led Roxana with seven kills, while Westfall had six and third-year setter Niah Bevolo dished out 15 assists to keep them fueled.
After taking it on the chin in that second game vs. Calhoun, the Shells showed poise by recovering quickly against Jersey. They went straight from Milazzo Gym into the B Gym and showed they had short memories.
Roxana bounced out to a 7-3 lead against the Panthers, highlighted by a three straight aces from Lackey in the service game. The Shells kept rolling, leading 16-10 on a kill by Abby Palen and later 20-12.
Jersey compiled a 7-0 spurt to dwindle it to 20-19, but could never nab the lead.
Westfall and Lackey had some big put aways at the net down the stretch and Bevolo got a kill on game point for the 25-23 win.
The Panthers charged hard out of the gates in the second game, racing out to an 11-3 advantage. Mackenzie Thurston had a couple kills along the way and Faith Franke had a kill and an ace to steer the run.
McKinney quickly called a timeout to plug the leak.
“I said, 'hey guys, we don't want to go three because anything can happen in a short game,'” McKinney said. “I said, 'We need to dig down, one point at a time and take advantage when Thurston is in the back row.' We did that, we got on a run and we got confidence going.”
The Shells got within 15-14 on a kill by Westfall, which kick started a 5-0 run to nab an 18-15 edge. They never trailed again, turning a once 11-4 deficit into a 25-21 win. Westfall hammered home a kill on match point.
Roxana had 26 kills as a team vs. Jersey. Westfall led with nine, while Lackey chipped in with six kills and three aces. Bevolo divvied out 24 assists.
With the strong start in the tournament, Lackey believes the Shells have a foundation for a solid season.
“I think we can accomplish a lot,” Lackey said. “I think we're going to go further than we did last year.”
CM corralled fifth place in the tournament. On Saturday, the Eagles bested Marquette Catholic 25-20, 25-14 in the silver bracket finals. The Explorers were sixth. The rest of the field rounded out with: Bunker Hill, Gillespie, Dupo, Father McGivney, East Alton-Wood River and Madison.