By Mike Monahan
Mattoon’s student section stormed the court after the Green Wave volleyball team used a strong defense to sweep Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 25-21, 25-19 Thursday for Senior Night.
It was the last home match for nine Green Wave players.
“I have been preaching that (defense) to them all year long,” said Mattoon coach Kayla Quick. “One person makes a good play to pull us out of a mental funk and then things just start happening. I tell the girls all the time: don’t play scared. Because when you play scared, that is when things start to fall apart and the wheels start to fall off the bus. When they start having confidence and they play feeling confident, the next person sees a girl make a great play and thinks: ‘Oh, maybe I can make a great play too.’ And she starts playing a little more aggressive and intently and she starts making great plays. It just picked up the entire team. This game, especially for these girls, is mental.”
The first set featured seven ties, 11 aces and eight service errors as well as three lead changes.
Sacred Heart-Griffin tied its biggest lead at 18-15 after a service point by Ava Hillyer. One of five service errors by the Cyclones, a member of the Central State Eight where they finished 4-4, gave Mattoon’s Amanda Bailey the service.
Amanda Bailey served six straight points to give Mattoon a 22-18 advantage late in the first set, getting help from a block and a kill by Holly McReynolds.
“That was huge for us and a momentum shift,” said Quick. “I love when the girls finally click and things just start moving. They are not playing scared anymore. They are not afraid to make a mistake because they know they can touch the ball and make it better. Those runs are a lot of fun to watch and I can imagine they are just as much fun when you are on the court, too.”
Sacred Heart scored three of the next four points before Faith Neibrugge served the final two points, including the set-winning ace.
Mattoon continued its momentum in the second set. Averie Smith served four points, including an ace and a kill by Smith after giving herself the serve on a kill. The Green Wave built a 19-11 off a point by Averie Smith.
Sacred Heart-Griffin responded by outscoring Mattoon 7-2 to climb within three after a kill by Grace Minder.
With Mattoon ahead 21-18, Chloe Jobe served two straight points, including an ace, and Averie Smith smashed a kill for a commanding 24-18 advantage. Appropriately, Averie Smith finished with her fifth kill off a set by Bella Smith for the five-point win and two-game sweep.
“To me, honestly, it means that we worked hard as a team,” said Jobe. “For the past four years, I have worked with these girls and I love them. The memories I have had with them are incredible. I can’t believe that we beat them on Senior night. It is such a big thing for us, and I am really proud of all of us.”
Mattoon hadn’t defeated SH-G since Oct. 20, 2016 at Springfield in a 28-26, 25-22 victory.
“We worked hard as a team and fought hard to win on Senior Night because it is our last home game,” said Niebrugge. “I think it is just an amazing night and is such a pleasure to win with these girls. I have been with them through all four years of high school, and it has been amazing. “
The Green Wave (16-9) will travel to Mahomet for the Mahomet-Seymour Invitational where they will play Washington, Manteno and Hoopeston Area in pool play at 8 a.m, 11 a.m and 1 p.m., respectively.
“These girls had a fire in their heart to win tonight,” said Quick. “Not just because they wanted to better their record or better themselves as players, but because it was their senior night. It was the last time nine of the 13 girls got to stomp in this gym. So for them to pull out with a win, not only a win, but in two (sets), is so big. I am so proud of them.”
“They are hyped. They are motivated.”
Mattoon had defeated Effingham on Tuesday, 25-20, 26-24. They meet again next Tuesday in the first regional game.
“Winning against them was huge and winning against Sacred Heart-Griffin on Senior Night just fueled the fire even more,” Quick said. “They are pumpeted and ready to go. I think Saturday is going to be a great day.”
Mattoon had a total of six aces, including two each by Jobe and Neibrugge. Three players tied for top honors in kills with five each by Averie Smith, Jessica Evans and Niebrugge. The team had a total of 21 kills. Bella Smith had 14 assists, while McReynolds had two blocks out of the team’s four. Jobe had a team-high 11 digs and the team had 27.
Jobe, who played as an outside hitter her freshman and sophomore year, became a libero as a junior.
“I didn’t see much playing time as a freshman or sophomore,” said Jobe. “I wanted for my senior year to be on the court. I wanted to deserve a spot on the starting six. So my sophomore and junior year in club season (club 217 and Rapid Fire), I decided I should switch positions and decided to start as a defensive specialist and I worked my way into my junior year being libero and then I am libero this year. Both club coaches helped me so much and taught me so much. I earned that spot on the court. It just makes me so happy that they were willing to put that much time and effort into me.”
Niebrugge said of Bella Smith the setter and how she is able to get kills, “Bella is an amazing setter,” said Niebrugge. “I have been getting a lot of help and being able to work to get kills, and it feels great when I get one.”
The seniors for MHS are Averie Smith, Sadie Bialseschki, Jobe, Grace Lange, Cadence McDaniel, McReynolds, Niebrugge, Bella Smith and Amanda Baker.
“This group of seniors holds a special place in my heart,” said Quick. “Simply because they were the very first group I coached. They started their coaching career with me. So for them to make it all the way through and still have that passion, that chemistry on and off the court as the girls don’t have any drama. They don’t have any issues outside of volleyball practice. They are just a solid, beautiful group of girls that work well together. It is really hard for me as a coach and just as a person — it is really hard for me to let them go. I am not only letting go of great athletes, but I am letting go of great role models for the rest of my program.”
NOTE: The junior varsity also swept Sacred Heart-Griffin, 25-14, 25-17.