Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
After playing toe-to-toe with Mahomet-Seymour in the first set where the Bulldogs eeked out a two-point win, the Green Wave’s (11-8, 4-4) defense could not withstand the Bulldogs (17-3, 8-0) in the final set, 26-24, 25-13.
“Some of that is on me, because number 5 (Avery Allen) is cranking the ball,” Mattoon coach Kayla Quick said. “We took that shot away from her, but Mahomet did a really great job of seeing the holes. She saw us shifting so she started cranking cross court and short tips because we were setting up deeper and towards the line for her. Some of that is me having the girls adjust early on even before she touches the ball in set 2. The other part of that is not making adjustments quick enough.”
Mattoon held a 9-7 advantage in the first set and found themselves in great position countering what the fifth-ranked Bulldogs were giving them. A kill that was just outside of senior Jess Evans’ reach sealed the first set win for Mahomet-Seymour. The Bulldogs came out in the second set firing their big cannons.
“Most of that is mental,” she said. “Sometimes my girls get themselves into a funk that I’m not able to get them out of. Its something that they have to decide on. Even sometimes when they have teammates trying to pick them up, it’s not enough until they themselves are willing to let those mistakes fall behind them.
“I don’t know if that’s something we can change or more of an adjustment that this group of girls is going to have to make. I think that their desire to win…is amazing and sometimes makes it easier to get into a funk.”
Led by junior outside hitter Avery Allen and junior middle hitter Sydney McKinney, the pair rattled off four kills, staking the Bulldogs to a 9-1 second set lead. Allen led the Bulldogs with five kills in the second set, much of it with precision strikes the Green Wave didn’t react quickly enough to defend.
“I think there were a couple differences between set 1 and 2,” Quick said. “I don’t think Mahomet was hitting quite as hard at us in set 1 as they did in set 2. Our defense, I think, couldve been cranked up a bit in set especially set 2. We were just not reading the hitters body well and taking away those power shots in the second set.”
Mattoon tried showing power of their own with a spike from sophomore Ashlynne Kuhn but the attempt was blocked back behind her and she swung at it in the hopes of knocking it back to the Bulldogs – but it instead went out of bounds giving Mahomet-Seymour a 14-4 advantage in the second set.
Mattoon senior Lily Ghere heated up with back-to-back kills, leading the Green Wave back to 19-9. But Mahomet-Seymour continued to pound the ball with a kill from Tori Garner that Mattoon didn’t have a answer for in the second set.
“We work on ball setter, ball hitter a lot where we’re talking about reading if the hitter is coming up with her hand in front of her then she’s probably not swinging hard so you can move in,” Quick said. “Things like that, one day I know it, it’s going to click for these girls: ‘God, that’s what coach has been talking about.’ I don’t think they realize how close they are to really just being that program to beat.”
Allen punished the Green Wave players with her fifth kill of the set taking the lead to 24-12 before Mahomet-Seymour’s Chloe Pruitt tipped the ball away from Ghere who couldn’t reach it for the final point.
“I told them in the huddle after that (first) set, ‘I am impressed with how you walked out of that set – not because you were killing balls, but because we were making solid touches on the ball and every touch we made we improved and made it better’,” she said. “That allows our setters to set more balls, and our hitters to get more attempts on the ball. We get more attempts. Odds are, if we put the ball in play we’re going manufacture some of those points we need. That was the main difference between sets 1 and 2. In set 2, for whatever reason, defense or serve receive, we weren’t bettering the ball. We were in survival mode. Whenever we touched the ball it was “I just need to get this ball up so someone else can get it over the net.’ It wasn’t intentional enough to make the ball better.”
There’s still plenty of season for the team to get out of their heads and shake off mistakes.
“I think we haven’t peaked yet,” Quick said. “Which is really what I want to see. I want to see my girls perform best towards the end of the season when it matters most coming into regionals. We can continue bettering our team as a whole and better the ball and keep that mindset and peak towards the end of the season.”
Gabi Ray 8 digs
Jess Evans 3 kills, 5 digs, 1 Ace
Lily Ghere 7 kills, 6 digs
Nevaeh Laster 3 kills
Sarah Rankin 1 Ace