Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Mattoon continues to do things the hard way.

But, in the end, it’s working for them.

Even though the Green Wave (10-7) had service issues the entire night against Effingham (4-12), they captured the last two sets to defeat the Hearts, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21, in girls volleyball.

“I don’t know if they’re thinking about it too much or if they just get frustrated with themselves,” Mattoon coach Kayla Quick said. “I think that’s it. Volleyball is ninety percent mental and ten percent skill.”

Mattoon’s Nevaeh Laster agreed.

“We definitely struggled a little bit, but we were able to pull ourselves out, she said. “We were nervous, maybe.” 

The Green Wave took an early 2-0 first set lead just to give it back on a poor serve followed by a poor dig. Leading 4-2, Mattoon gave up yet another point to a bad serve followed by an ace from Effingham, equalizing the score a second time. Mattoon took a 10-6 lead only to have another bad serve that made it 10-7.

Mattoon’s Lily Ghere responded by making a phenomenal kill, but Effingham went on a five-point tear to take the lead at 12-11, prompting a timeout by Quick. 

The two teams traded points until Effingham went on another five-point streak for a 20-15 lead. The Green Wave attempted a comeback but a Jess Evans’ spike went out of bounds, sealing Effingham’s first set victory.

“I think communication is big,” Quick said. “We let one error turn to two, turn to four. Those errors don’t help anybody and it adds to the frustration. I’m looking to my leaders on the floor are we good, OK?”

The Green Wave stormed out to a 6-0 lead in the second, before Effingham began a comeback of their own getting within four points putting a damper on their momentum.

Even though Mattoon’s Gabi Ray and Lily Ghere collided in an attempt to make a dig, the ball managed to go over the net for a point. The Green Wave scored another point, the fifth in a row, before Effingham called a timeout.

“Well, communication-wise that wasn’t our strongest set and we talked about that already,” Quick said. “I think what ended up happening is that Gabi went for the dig and Lily went for it. I honestly don’t know what happeend, but I do know that part there was a communication issue that shouldn’t have happened. They turned it around well and dug in their heels. We have a lot work to do for communication.”

They were both trying to get to the ball,” Mattoon’s Nevaeh Laster said. “I think Gabi got it and then Lily collided with her.”

Mattoon stormed out to a 14-6 lead before the Hearts went on a 10-2 run, tying it at 16. The Green Wave inched ahead going on a 6-1 run to close the second set out 25-18.

“We definitely wanted it more in the second set,” Laster said. 

Neither team could take control early in the third set. Effingham could have taken a 4-1 lead, but served the ball into the net. The Green Wave took advantage of the error and went on a 8-4 run before once again serving the ball into the net.

“We’ve been working very hard on coverage in practice,” She said. “But, today, with good blocking teams like Effingham on reading where we were setting up – they were on top of it. That plays into a lot of our frustration. We talk a lot about manufacturing points and being scrappy. It takes a lot of conversation to get it going.”

The two teams battle point-for-point until Sarah Rankin made a kill, followed by a fantastic ace by Sophia Rhine that put Mattoon ahead, 24-21. Effingham couldn’t return a Rhine serve to finish the third set in the Green Wave’s favor.

Laster said they were trying to play smarter in the third set.

“We definitely were looking for more holes,” she said. “The block got us a lot. We were looking for holes to play smarter with the ball and I think that helped us a lot.”

Mattoon struggled not only with service, but with blocking as several Effingham kills deflected off Mattoon blockers into unoccupied areas of the court. Quick points out she’s not worried about that.

Before Thursday’s match against Effingham, two-thirds of the season has been played with the Green Wave sitting in fourth place in the Apollo Conference behind Taylorville, Lincoln, and Mahomet-Seymour – all teams Quick mentioned in the preseason they would be competing against for the conference title.”

“Sometimes, there are hard hit balls,” she said. “I’m 100 percent OK if we let a ball go through that is a solid hit. We talk a lot about just blocking in the moment. I try to be more lenient and flexible. We talk a lot about being intentional.”

“I think this team has more to give,” Quick added. “They are scrappy. They’re deceiving because they’re not big. Teams underestimate us. We have to get our heads in the right space so we can triumph over some of the bigger teams in the conference.”