Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski

It wasn’t the fairy tale ending the Green Wave had hoped for.

Waterloo defeated Mattoon in two sets at the IHSA Class 3A Bethalto Sectional semifinals Monday evening, 25-14, 25-17.

“We knew they were a great team coming in,” Mattoon volleyball coach Kayla Quick said. “We tried our best to prepare. It’s tough to prepare for a team that you don’t know much about except for their record and the stats that you can find.”

The Bulldogs raced out to a 10-6 lead in the first set before eventuallyoutpacing the Green Wave on an 8-1 run.

“We went into practice and did what we could, but came in ready to take on what we didn’t know,” Quick said. “Tonight wasn’t us. We weren’t ready to come out and prevail over this team, unfortunately. Although I wish it could’ve ended differently, I’m proud of the girls of all they accomplished this season.”

Mattoon’s Bella Smith and Averie Smith try to block a spike from Waterloo’s Hailey Montgomery during their Class 3A Bethalto sectional semifinals Monday evening.

Waterloo stormed out to a 3-0 lead before an Averie Smith kill put the Green Wave on the board. Smith record another kill, one of six on the night, to bring Mattoon to 4-2. Trailing 6-2, the Green Wave scored three points capped by a timely block by Holly McReynolds to make it 6-5. 

The back and forth continued.

The Bulldogs staked themselves to a 12-8 lead and the Green Wave closed within 12-10, prompting a time out by Waterloo varsity volleyball coach Angie Crawford.

Then, Mattoon’s Averie Smith brought the Green Wave back to within one with a spike that was redirected out of bounds. A service error tied the set at 14-all. 

Waterloo pulled away with a 7-1 run. 

Faith Niebrugge responded by making a one-handed diving dig to her left that kept the ball in play and which led to a kill by Averie Smith. The acrobatic play, though, proved insufficient to hold off the  Bulldogs.

“At some point, I’m willing to accept when there’s a team better than us,” Quick said. “They’re taller than we are, they’re just a big group of girls that do really well at volleyball. What I told my girls coming into the second set was ‘Now is not the time to fall apart mentally or emotionally.’ I understand that this is a sectional game and possibly one of your last high school volleyball games. What we can’t do is feel like we had more to give at the end of the day.”

Quick, throughout the season, had preached about leaving nothing on the floor.

“The first set I felt like they had more to give,” she said. “They didn’t give me their all. They were nervous. They were mentally flustered. I didn’t get the girls that I know can do better. The second set I felt like they pulled themselves together a bit more. At some point, I’m willing to accept teams that are better than we are and tonight that might just have been the case.”

“We hadn’t seen anyone like them before,” she added. “They were just a fantastic hitting team. They have height, they have power. They’ve got a really great volleyball IQ. They just know where to move. They’re not out of position on defense. They’re just a solid team.”

Waterloo’s Ella Bockhorn led the Bulldogs with nine kills. Paige Montgomery and Josie Briggs had five apiece. Setter Ellie Schwehr led with 20 assists.

“They were able to read our defense and pick up when some of the girls were on their heels and not on their toes,” Quick said. “They maximized on those rotations where they knew that we weren’t as strong on others.”

Quick thinks the sectional stage played a role in the team’s performance in the first set.

“I think they were a little bit nervous going on,” she said. “All we knew was their record, which was 28-5 and now 29-5. I think it’s a little tough. I think they were a little bit intimidated because they saw the record and didn’t really know what to expect. We talked about their stats a little bit in practice Saturday and did what we could. I’m not sure ‘in awe’ is the right way of saying it, but they’re at sectionals and taking it in and having a big huge team to play in the first set.  That had a lot to do with how they performed.”

Quick reflected on some of her senior contributors who helped advance to sectionals in over four years.

“My Bella Rose, one of the most fantastic athletes I’ve had a chance to work with,” Quick said. “I haven’t done this for very long, but what I do know is a fantastic girl when I see one. She is. She radiates positivity. She’s a leader. She knows what to do and when when to do it.” 

“Averie has been our powerhouse all season long,” she said. “Another phenomenal athlete. Faith and Cadance McDaniel – I can’t say enough about those two defensively. (Faith) picks up balls that you wouldn’t expect her to pick up. She’s fantastic. I don’t know how we’re going to replace Faith and Cadance both.”

Holly McReynolds and Grace Lange were silent helpers for Quick, coming in defensively closing the gaps at the net.

“They’re the silent girls of the team,” Quick said. “I mean that because they don’t have a lot of power when they hit but those girls have hands that you wouldn’t believe. They can close a gap. They get a really great hand and they can press over. They make the team better.”

Quick noted that for a team that was smaller than most, they accomplished much.

Mattoon (20-13) posted solid stats Monday night, too. 

Faith Niebrugge had eight digs, followed by Nevaeh Laster with seven, and Cadance McDaniel and Chloe Jobe tied with six. Holly McDaniel had two blocks assisted by Bella Smith and Faith Niebrugge. Faith Niebrugge had seven kills followed by Averie Smith with six. Bella Smith had 15 assists.

“For them to come together as a unit and keep so many of them in the four years of high school is fantastic in of itself,” she said. “With what they were able to accomplish this season really speaks of who they are as people. I’m so incredibly proud of everything they’ve accomplished.”

In the huddle after the match, Quick gave them one last directive.

“I told them they had nothing to hang their heads about,” Quick said. “They defied odds. They’re not tall. They’re not powerful. But they clicked. And that makes them a great volleyball team. For them to do what no team has done in five or six years is huge. I told them that there’s nothing they have to be upset about. They left everything they had on the court.”

This group of seniors is Quick’s first four-year graduating class and they’ve left an indelible mark on their coach.

“These girls are my babies. They are. I have never met a group of girls,” Quick said, pausing, “that just clicked the way that they do.”