Edwardsville’s Rachel Pranger attacks during the Tigers’ SWC two-set win over the Redbirds on Thursday at Alton High in Godfrey.
Billy Hurst / For The Telegraph
Alton’s Emily Stahl (left) celebrates a point with teammate Rachel Holmes during Thursday’s SWC match against Edwardsville at Alton High in Godfrey. Stahl was one of three Redbirds honored on Senior Night.
GODFREY – The Edwardsville Tigers were coming off a weekend coach Jami Parker called, “by far, our best ball of the season up in Chicago.”
They did not pack quite that performance level for the 30-minute trip to Alton High, but the Tigers still had too much firepower for the Alton Redbirds in a 25-10, 25-15 Southwestern Conference girls volleyball victory Thursday night.
“We were just a little out of rhythm tonight,” Parker conceded. “Nothing was bad, just a little tick off here and there. Serve receive was being pushed off the net a little, blocks weren’t quite closing. It was details. And (Alton) was playing very aggressive and taking some big swings. They kept the ball up in play and did a really nice job.”
And that was the consolation prize Alton coach Stacey Ferguson could cling to after the Tigers needed just 38 minutes to put way her Redbirds.
Alton mounted little resistance in the first set, but forced a Tigers timeout after fighting back from a five-point deficit to draw within 13-11 after a Sydney Schmidt ace and a couple Edwardsville attack errors. It was the fight Ferguson hoped to see.
“That’s all I can ask for,” Ferguson said. “Especially after the first set, we just kind of went through the motions and didn’t really go out there to play. We know (Edwardsville’s) a tough team, we’re outsized, out-experienced every year. The second set, we just made the decision that we weren’t going to lay down and lose even when the score created that gap.”
Redbird kills from Emily Stahl and Rachel Holmes kept the margin at three (16-13) when the Tigers drew off with an 8-0 run. Kate Martin had seven kills, including six in the second set, and three aces off 13 service points to lead Edwardsville, which got 18 assists from Rachel Verdun, seven kills from Maria Smith, and six kills and eight digs from Rachel Pranger.
Edwardsville, which went 4-1 at the Mizuno Scholastic Cup at Great Lakes Center in Aurora over the weekend, moves to 21-5 and 6-0 in the SWC. The victory clinched at least a share of the SWC title for 10th time in 11 seasons for the Tigers. Edwardsville closes league play at home Tuesday against Belleville West. West and O’Fallon both have one loss in the SWC.
Alton is 15-16-2 and 3-3 in the SWC. The Redbirds close their regular season at West next Thursday.
“I’m proud of where we’re at,” Ferguson said. “Obviously, I can look back and wish and believe that we could have won when we didn’t. But the way they’ve responded, not shutting down and night after night, they’re coming back, they’re practicing, they’re working. That’s all that I can ask from them.”
By the time the Tigers took a 13-7 lead in the opening set, they had six different players put down at least one kill. But Ferguson liked her team’s defensive effort against a deep and talented hitting arsenal for Edwardsville.
“We’re only going to get better, at the end of the day, playing like that,” Ferguson said. “Hopefully, with my younger girls, that’s experience that they’re going to get and see that’s what it’s going to take to stand a chance to win night after night.”
Libero Grace Kane made a match-high 16 digs for the Redbirds.
“Grace Kane really stepped up tonight,” Ferguson said. “She didn’t let anything hit the floor. She worked very hard for it. It wasn’t always perfect, but she really went out there and put her best foot forward and gave her team a chance to do something.”
The Redbirds honored seniors Stahl, Schmidt and Gwen Hunter before the match. And all three shined in moments against the Tigers.
“That’s awesome to see on Senior Night,” Ferguson said. “They stepped up to the plate tonight. … I was proud of how they came out there, and like all season, really led the team.”