PHOTO: Monticello’s Sydney Owen makes a pass during the Monticello Invitational Sept. 28. (Photo by Pete Temple)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
It was the kind of match the Monticello High School volleyball team has been looking for all season.
Trailing two sets to none in a River Valley Conference match at Northeast of Goose Lake, the Panthers (2-3, 4-13) came storming back to win the final three and come away with a victory Tuesday, Sept. 24. Monticello won 19-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 15-5.
“This was a great win for a young team,” Monticello coach Lori Lammers said. “Two weeks ago we would have given up after the first two sets. The girls have made a lot of growth since the start of the season.”
Rachel Gadient had a big night, with 15 kills and five blocks. Mara Mescher was “huge for us on the service line,” Lammers said, serving 13 straight points to give the Panthers a 13-1 lead in the final set. Setter Taylor McDonough made 26 assists. Allison Ries had 13 of the team’s 46 digs, and Sonya McCormick made eight.
The Panthers went on to win their second conference match of the season as well, dispatching Bellevue in four sets, 25-19, 25-19, 12-25, 25-20 Sept. 26 in Monticello.
Gadient had 12 kills and McCormick had nine in that match, as McDonough collected 28 assists. Sydney Owen made 11 digs, Mescher had 10 and Ries had nine. Sonya Sperfslage served five of the team’s 17 aces, and Ries had four aces.
“Another great passing night for us,” Lammers said. “We did a great job with ball control, which is something we have struggled with from time to time.
“Our passing and communication broke down in set three. We came out with a lot more passion and fire in set four and played to win the match, which made the difference at the end.”
The Panthers then came up against some of its toughest competition during the Monticello Invitational Sept. 28. In order, Monticello faced Davenport Assumption (ranked fourth in the state in Class 4A), DeWitt Central and Linn-Mar, and lost each in two sets.
“What a tough tournament,” Lammers said. “We opened with state-ranked Assumption, and some of the things we have struggled with plagued us again. We played with Assumption sideout-for-sideout until 10 points, and then their big hitters took over and we were in a scramble to defend against a quicker offense.”
The Panthers lost that one 10-21, 13-21; and then lost 19-21, 15-21 to DeWitt Central.
“DeWitt was one of those matches I’d like to take back. We played a great first set and had an opportunity to win it. After dropping a close first set, we broke down in passing in set two and just couldn’t get organized offensively.”
The final match was a 14-21, 10-21 defeat against Linn-Mar.
“I think we were a bit like deer in headlights at the start of the Linn-Mar match, just because they are simply a 5A team. Once we were able to get past that, we settled in and played a better, controlled game.
“We served 96 percent, which is something we had not done up to this point. We also had much better ball control and our blockers cut down on our net violations.”
The Panthers have just a single match this week, Oct. 3 at West Branch, which is ranked 13th in Class 3A.
“The key for us right now is that our kids are willing to get better every time they step in the gym,” the coach said. “Last Monday brought an entirely different focus at practice, which made the difference in our two conference wins.”