Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski

It wasn’t pretty, but Mattoon head volleyball coach Kayla Quick will take it.

The Green Wave took on Effingham Tuesday evening on the eve of regionals, spoiling the Hearts’ senior night by winning 25-20, 26-24.

Mattoon goes to 14-9 and 6-6 in the Apollo while Effingham drops to 14-21, 2-10. The two teams will face off for a third time next Tuesday in the Class 3A Effingham regional semifinals.

“We worked really hard in practice cleaning up our net game,” Quick said. “Our biggest issue is ourselves. We get down on ourselves with mistakes and honed in on that this week just trying to figure out how to create and manufacture those points when we feel like we’re in a funk or trapped.”

Mattoon went ahead 8-4 on Effingham before the Hearts neutralized the Green Wave eventually trading points throughout the first set.

Bella Smith, Mattoon’s rambunctious spark plug, faked a tip into the middle of the court and put it down the line putting the Green Wave ahead 22-20, driving her teammates to a 25-20 first set win.

“She is invaluable,” Quick said. “Our Bella Rose! Every ball that she touches, she makes better. She does a fantastic job communicating with her teammates. She picks people up. She has a positive attitude. And that radiates from every bit of her. We are incredibly proud of our Miss Bella Rose.”

Mattoon stormed through the middle of the second set going on a 7-1 run taking a 17-10 lead on the Hearts, but Effingham chipped away eventually tieing it at 24 apiece. Quick asked for a timeout to huddle up her squad. 

“It’s the mental game,” Quick said. “It is. They start making a few mistakes and tense up and then a few more and it’s ‘Oh, are we going to get ourselves out of this hole we’ve created. We’ve talked so much how athletic and versatile this group is. It’s getting them to believe that too. So when we have huddles like that, it’s a conversation like ‘Slow down, take a deep breath, and remember that you are versatile, you are flexible and athletic. You have the power to make those athletic touches on the ball’.” 

The Green Wave went back on the court capturing the final two points, winning the second set 26-24 and completing the match win.

The Hearts took Mattoon to three sets – 25-20, 18-25, 25-11 on Sept. 23. Quick says this is a ‘better win’.

“This to me shows they’re making progress in their mental game,” she said. “They can close a game. They don’t have to get themselves down. They don’t have to worry about being on the bottom and working their way up top. They pushed through and executed and that’s what I’m really proud of.”

Mattoon will go back to Effingham next Tuesday for a regional semifinal matchup against the Hearts for their third meeting this season.

“We have some difficulty reading their hitters in the front row,” Quick said. “We’re going to focus our energy on reading some of those hitters that are turning mid air and how to pick up some of those scrappier balls that are thrown at us. I think we did a great job tonight of picking up some of those tips but the short game is going to be big for us. Otherwise it’s just the mental game. These girls need to learn how to pick their teammates up and themselves up after they make a mistake and not compound what they’ve already done.”