PHOTO: Monticello’s Traci Plummer (18) deflects a hit by Northeast’s Ashley Kruse during the regional match Oct. 28 in Goose Lake. (Photo by Pete Temple)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Monticello volleyball coach Lori Lammers had a message for her team, after a tough loss at Northeast of Goose Lake ended the Panthers’ season.
“Next year starts today.”
The Panthers were hoping to wait a little longer before thinking about next year, but Northeast put an end to this season with a 25-17, 25-10, 28-26 victory Monday, Oct. 28 in Goose Lake.
“Our youth showed early in this match,” Lammers said. “We played scared and tight, which made it tough for us to get into the system early.”
The first set was close most of the way. The teams were tied 16-16, and Northeast led 19-17 before winning six points in a row to close it out. A block by Breanne Butler ended the set.
Northeast took control right from the start of the second set, jumping to leads of 13-2 and 21-6 before a Panther error ended it in a 10-25 loss.
Things became more exciting for the Panthers in the third set. The match was tied 12-12 and 14-14. Monticello trailed 16-17 but scored three straight points on a kill by Sonya McCormick, a service ace by Sydney Owen and a tip by Traci Plummer.
The teams traded points, including a pair of kills by Sonya Sperfslage, until the Panthers took a 24-21 lead on a net violation by the Rebels.
“We were a completely different team in set three,” Lammers said.
Northeast came back to tie it 24-24 on a kill by Addie Oberman and two aces by Kelsey Carder.
A kill by Rachel Gadient and an out-of-bounds hit by Northeast gave Monticello two more chances to close it out, but the Rebels came back both times.
Northeast then took a 27-26 lead on a Panther error, and ended the set – and the match – on a kill by Butler.
“We were extremely competitive and put ourselves in a position to win the set and push the match to a fourth set, but just couldn’t seem to protect the lead late,” Lammers said.
Monticello had 23 kills as a team, with Gadient and Plummer getting six apiece and McCormick adding five. Taylor McDonough made 19 assists. Owen had eight digs and Allison Ries had six. Mara Mescher served 10-for-10 with three aces.
The Panthers ended the season with a 4-19 record, including 2-6 in the River Valley Conference.
“As a coach, you always hate to see the season come to an end, especially with all of the progress we made this fall,” Lammers said. “My heart always breaks for the seniors, and what amazing seniors we had this year. They provided the positive leadership a very young squad needed.”
Lammers said she is optimistic about the team’s future.
“As a program we made more progress in the short 10 weeks we were together than most teams make in 12 months,” she said. “The kids understand the importance of what an off-season does for the improvement of a program, and I think they are hungry to get started.
“I have been telling the kids all fall that the end results will be well worth the journey. Our journey isn’t complete yet, but we’re getting closer.”
Earlier, the Panthers played in a mini-tournament at Northeast on Oct. 24, and lost matches to Camanche and Maquoketa.
Using a best-of-three, 25-point format, the Panthers took Camanche to a third set before losing 25-16, 14-25, 9-15.
“We played great volleyball against Camanche,” Lammers said. “We had control of set one from the first serve. The girls played great controlled, in-system volleyball.
“We stumbled a bit in set two and just couldn’t hold the lead in set three. This match was proof of all the improvement the kids have made since the first day of the season.”
Gadient had 11 kills. McDonough made 18 assists. Ries had seven digs. Sperfslage served 22-for-23 with six aces.
Monticello lost to Maquoketa 15-25, 18-25. McCormick had three kills, McDonough had five assists, Ries made eight digs and Gadient had three blocks. McDonough and Mescher both served 8-for-8.
“We competed as well as we could against Maquoketa,” the coach said. “The Cardinals play a faster game, which gave us trouble early. We made adjustments defensively and played better in transition in set two. We just couldn’t overcome their faster game.”