By Kyle Daubs

It took until May, but Hannah Dow finally has a full team. 

After Mattoon High’s volleyball season finished last Thursday, Dow finally had all 18 players out for practice earlier this week – a perfect time since MHS opens its Apollo Conference season this Saturday against defending Apollo champion Mount Zion. 

“It has been nice to have all 18 girls at practice to be able to have a full defense out on the field while also working on situations,” said Dow. “At the beginning of the season, we had some girls playing out of position and filling in at spots that they had never played at. It is great to see the versatility and the willingness to learn a new spot from these athletes.”

Mattoon started 0-2, but Dow believes that a little bit of adversity is good for a team.

“We have had a little slow start, but failure can be a powerful tool for this team as it gives us an understanding of what we need to get better at,” said Dow. “Nobody enjoys losing, but it can build character and hopefully will motivate our athletes to work that much harder towards our personal and team goals.”

Mattoon isn’t the only team to get off to a slow start. The Braves are also searching to find their identity going into the conference season. 

After winning its first two games, Mount Zion has lost five in a row. Braves coach Greg Blakey says the team is playing better, but “we still can’t piece together a win. Our pitching is a work in progress like the rest of our team.  No dominant pitcher stands out.  Offensively, we have played better of late.”

Marin Stenger, the team’s leadoff hitter, has gotten off to a hot start. Gwen Bender and Dakota Harrison have also been consistent hitters in the lineup.

To counter, Mattoon expects to use all three pitchers this weekend. 

“Raven Morrison, Ivie Edwards, and Elizabeth Enlow all bring something different to the table and we have really focused on throwing strikes,” said Dow. “Our defense cannot defend a walk. So as long as we focus on hitting our spots and trusting in our defense to help us out, we will win some ball games.”

Delainey Bryant has ripped a double and triple in the first two games, driving in one run in two games. Emma Longcur is 2-for-5.

To accommodate the shortened season this year, only the first game of each Apollo doubleheader counts towards the conference standings. 

“The Apollo format being a little different now puts a little more urgency and pressure on winning that first game,” said Blakey. “We can’t play poorly and win the conference.”

The rule change doesn’t bother Dow. After all, when Dow pitched for Mattoon, the Wave were members of the Big 12 Conference. Back then, the rule was the same. It just makes the game even more fun. 

“The Apollo Conference has some tough teams in it,” said Dow. “We will need to execute the little things on both offense and defense to come out on top. The girls will need to come out with a lot of energy and most importantly have fun playing the game they love. When they are having fun they are much more relaxed at the plate and on defense. It’s going to take all 18 of our girls to make it through the season.”

Game Notes

Who: Mattoon @ Mount Zion

Records: Mattoon (0-2, 0-0), Mount Zion (2-5, 0-0)

Where: McGaughey School

Time: 10 a.m.

Notes: First game counts towards Apollo standings. The second game counts towards the overall record. 

Mount Zion Players to Watch: Marin Stenger (Second Base), Gwen Bender (Catcher), Caitlin Maley (Third Base)