GRANITE CITY — High school boys volleyball continues to grow in the Metro-East area.
Seven years ago, there were just three schools that had boys' volleyball programs. This year, that number has tripled. Alton became the ninth Metro-East school to field a boys' volleyball program this spring.
"It's becoming a very competitive area, which is very exciting," Alton coach Daniel Campbell said.
Three weeks ago, Alton celebrated its first win in program history by beating North County Tech in two games in its first-ever home match. On Tuesday, the Redbirds were looking to beat the Granite City Warriors for their first Southwestern Conference win.
But the Warriors had other ideas.
Granite City celebrated its first win of the season by knocking off Alton 25-23, 25-27, 25-15 at Granite City’s Memorial Gymnasium. Both the Warriors and the Redbirds are 1-7.
"It's very hard to get our wins," Granite City coach Justin Warren said. "Our guys don't play club as much and we're kind of outgunned in the Southwestern Conference, but our guys came together as a team tonight and really played well."
Granite City's boys' volleyball program is in its eighth season. After finishing with four wins in their first season in 2008, the Warriors won 13 matches and reached the regional championship match the next year.
The Warriors have 10 players on their roster and all of them are seniors.
"It's a rebuilding year almost every year because we have so many seniors who come out," Warren said. "They're athletic and they want to play. My heart goes to them because they want to play in a sport before they graduate and that's why we keep getting kids to come back for their senior year and not getting them for their freshman year. If we can build a little more, I think we can be better."
One of the Granite City seniors — Devin Beanland — played a key role in the first game.
With the Warriors down 22-20, Beanland served four straight points — three of them came off of aces — to give his team a 24-22 lead.
"Devin Beanland played really well for us tonight," Warren said. "He got some key serves for us, especially in that first game. Even in the game, he was hitting the ball very well and playing very smart and that's why he's on the team."
In the second game, the Warriors took a 23-17 lead after Beanland served an ace, but Alton went on a 7-0 run to take a 24-23 lead. With the game tied at 25-25, Alton got points from back-to-back Granite City hitting errors to win the game.
In the third game, the Redbirds got within 16-15 on a Granite City hitting error. But the Warriors went on a 9-0 run to win the game and match.
"To go into the third game and kind of shut down was not what I was anticipating our team to do," Campbell said. "It was frustrating on a coaches' standpoint."
The Redbirds, who are playing their first varsity season this year after playing in only junior varsity matches last spring, played their second three-game match of the season on Tuesday. They lost to East St. Louis in three games on April 7.
Alton also lost matches to Edwardsville, Metro East Lutheran, Belleville West, Belleville East and O'Fallon.
"We had some pretty close games and we had some games not so close, so it's been definitely a learning process for the team transitioning from a slow JV start to realizing how much faster varsity is," Campbell said.
The Warriors lost matches to Edwardsville, Metro-East Lutheran, Belleville West, Belleville East, O'Fallon, Althoff and North County Tech before pulling off the win over Alton on Tuesday.
"We had some ups and downs," Warren said. "It's been a roller-coaster ride with our guys, but we're kind of outgunned with size wise. If you look at the Edwardsvilles, the Belleville Easts, the Belleville Wests and the O'Fallons, they're a little bigger."
Granite City gets an eight-day break before returning to action on April 29 against Althoff at home. Alton's next match will be on Monday against Metro East Lutheran at home. The two teams will square off again on May 19 at Alton.