By Chet Piotrowski

Mattoon defeated Effingham in straight sets Tuesday evening, 25-19, 25-20, to advance to the Class 3A Effingham Regional championship where they’ll face top-seeded, Marion.

The Green Wave victory marked the third time this season they defeated the Hearts.

“I told them coming in here that it’s our third time and it’s not easy to win three times in a row,” Mattoon volleyball coach Kayla Quick said. “It’s not easy to beat a team as good as Effingham is. We talked about that and (about) not expecting to come in and having it in the bag. We talked about leaving everything on the floor. I didn’t want them to lose walking away feeling like they could have given more. That’s not what I want from them. I wanted them to work as a unit, and not as an individual. I think they executed that really well.”

Effingham, playing with a mix of seniors and freshmen, had “an uphill battle,” said Effingham varsity volleyball coach Theresa Vogt.

“(Seniors) Lexi (Chrappa)and Kennedy (Sowell) do a great job of being team leaders and being positive and motivating,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure on them, too, that they’re the go to and expected to put down a kill. They do a really good job handling that.”

The Green Wave raced out to a 6-1 lead behind an Averie Smith tip. Effingham came back to tie the first set after Bella Smith let a ball drop that she thought was going out of bounds.

After a Mattoon point, Effingham’s Brueklyn Bueker rocketed a spike to the far corner, giving the equalizing the score once again, this time at 17. The Hearts took another point and Quick had seen enough, eliciting a timeout.

The Green Wave took the next four points and, eventually, won the first set.

“They got a little sloppy on me, and I got a little nervous,” Quick said. “I had faith that these girls could pull through. Beating a team three times is difficult in general, but when it’s Effingham and it’s on their home court and the players are bringing heat at the net. It’s tough. So I’m proud of them pulling through.”

Bella Smith brought back the Green Wave to tie it 10-all with a magnificent tip the Effingham defenders weren’t expecting.

“I give her free rein,’ Quick said. “I trust her judgment when she reads across the court. She does a nice job of reading and finding the holes on her own. I don’t have to tell her what to do and when. If she’s having trouble and getting stuffed at the net, I may tell her that there’s a couple holes you’re not picking up on. Otherwise, she’s fantastic at reading a side across from the net.”

Averie Smith blasted back-to-back spikes, giving the Green Wave a 13-11 lead. Mattoon slowly pulled away for the second set win.

“Averie is our secret weapon,” she said. “When her and Bella connect, it is phenomenal to watch. Averie has this great strength to her.  She’s built, but you wouldn’t think she has the power she has. It’s hidden under all that exterior.”

Quick said the senior approached her at the beginning of the season wanting to change positions.

“She said, “’Hey coach I’d like to play outside.’ I said ‘Averie, honestly, I have got to have you in the middle because you are great at moving back and forth between the pins to close the gap on the block.’

She’s just a solid player that has really executed for us this season.”

Effingham, playing several freshman at times due to injury, couldn’t keep up with the Green Wave’s nine experienced seniors.

“We do lots of contact drills,” Vogt said. “We don’t do scrimmaging. We need to get them as much contact on the ball. Our freshman do a really great job. We actually had four freshmen on the court at one time.  We had a freshman serving, a freshman libero, and a freshman in the front row. They do a great job and stepped up.  The seniors did a really great job this year of making sure they were included and not stepping on their toes and making sure they were part of the team.”

Quick said the team arrived early to watch Marion in the event they did win.

“We came early today to catch a little bit of what they look like,” she said. “They have some good hitters that do some nice work at the net. Their libero is pretty solid. I don’t see a lot of holes in their defense. We’re going to have to work really hard on manufacturing our own points and not wait for them to make errors. We’re going to focus in practice tomorrow to creating those points, finding those holes, and maximizing rotations where we’re most successful.”