SLUH battles Vianney in Paint-it-Pink matchup, over $2,000 raised as stout defense and energetic atmosphere keep Jr. Bills undefeated

It’s not often that fourth quarter school events can distract students from the rapid, determined march towards summer vacation. Projects, tests, and AP exams all fly by as the weather gets warmer. Some things can break the mold and bring students back into the moment, though. A packed house of pink shirts in the Danis Field House ready to celebrate SLUH volleyball did just that last Wednesday. In their closest, most important match of the season, the Paint-it-Pink game, SLUH beat Vianney in straight sets. Played in support of Breast Cancer awareness, the match was high energy, intense, and victorious, just like the rest of the volleyball season so far.

Before Wednesday's match, the Jr. Bills took on Chaminade in a Holy Thursday match at the home of the Red Devils. SLUH started off Easter Break in a great way with a 25-13, 25-17, 25-22 victory. 

The first two sets were easily controlled by the Jr. Bills, and Chaminade did not have an answer to the power of SLUH’s attacks. However, the third set proved to be a challenge. With a rough start, head coach Jeff Cheak called a timeout with SLUH down 8-4. The timeout was successful and the Jr. Bills were able to get out of their funk thanks to senior right side hitter Michael Yemm, who led the team with 13 kills. 

SLUH then hosted Francis Howell Central on Easter Monday. The Jr. Bills easily handled their opponent in a 25-16, 25-9, 25-17 win. The play of SLUH and the consistent pressure they put on the Spartans allowed Cheak to use uncommon lineups. Every member on the 17-player team saw court time, and every member contributed to the dominant nature of the match. 

SLUH’s next match was the biggest of the year so far. Before the volleyball action began against Vianney, the night was used to acknowledge and raise awareness for the many women who have battled and are battling breast cancer. The SLUH volleyball program was moved to host such a night because of the closeness of this issue with individuals in the program. Molly Pieschel, wife of SLUH varsity coach Jeff Pieschel, has been recently battling breast cancer and was the individual that was presented the funds raised. Money was raised in multiple different ways, including selling Paint-It-Pink shirts to those in the SLUH and Vianney communities, but also to anyone who had connections around the city. Yemm’s mother Barb tackled the tremendous task of not only selling the shirts, but marketing and distributing them as well. The results were successful. 

“We sold over 600 t-shirts. Not only did we have SLUH and Vianney, but we had Cor Jesu, Nerinx, Ursuline, and St. Joe as pickup locations (for the shirts), as well as the grade school of the Pieschels’ kids,” said Barb Yemm. 

Yemms’ efforts to sell the shirts not only raised funds, but also spread the game’s mission and contributed to its turnout.

“I feel like we exceeded expectations. It was a Tuesday night in the middle of April, and I do not think that there has been that many people in the gym since Covid,” Yemm said.

The cause was worthy, but it wasn’t the only reason for the game’s hype. SLUH and Vianney have a long history in the St. Louis high school volleyball community, both in the top two winningest programs in Missouri. This long history automatically raised the stakes of the game to a level that no game of the 2022 season had provided for the Jr. Bills so far. This was a much-anticipated match, given that both teams are favorites for a deep State run in May. 

“I was talking about this weeks before the game. I thought this game was going to have a better turnout than maybe our state match (last year) because Vianney and SLUH have such a reputation of being very serious rivals,” said junior middle hitter Will Blaisdell. 

The game lived up to the hype, and the Griffins gave the Jr. Bills their toughest opponent (and closest scores) of the season. SLUH left the gym with a 26-24, 25-21, 25-22 win and continued their set streak of 121 straight set wins in a row. 

The beginning of the first set saw a rough start from SLUH. Going down 3-8, Cheak called a timeout to get his team back on track. Yemm recalls Cheak’s message during the timeout. “We knew that we were a little excited. We were really amped to have that many people there, and we needed to settle down and battle back,” said Yemm. 

After the timeout, the Jr. Bills fought their way back into the match, tying it up at 14-14. Yemm attests that comeback to not only the timeout messaging, but also the trust of the team. “We had complete and utter confidence in each other that everyone was ready to play,” said Yemm. 

This confidence continued for the rest of the set, as the two teams traded point-for-point for the remainder of the set. Not until the final two points did SLUH finish the highly-contested set with two consecutive kills from senior outside hitter Phillip Bone, ending the game 26-24. 

The second set saw the same slow start from SLUH, a deficit of 1-4. The Griffins’ block was very strong, and the Jr. Bills had trouble at first in finding their way around it. Nevertheless, SLUH got out of the lull on their own without a timeout. They were able to inch their way back into the set. The contributions from the middle of the court from juniors Victor Lazzaretti and Blaisdell were the difference makers in the second. After speaking with Cheak and the rest of the coaches, senior setter George Henken was focused on using the middles more than in the first set. Contributing a combined 10 kills, Blaisdell and Lazzaretti were forces that SLUH used to creep their way back into the game. 

Getting the middles involved also allows for the right side and outside hitters to have less of a block from their opponent. 

“They made a huge difference in making all of us pins way more effective because they were able to get the Vianney middles to jump with them,” said Yemm. 

Ending the set with a massive kill from sophomore outside hitter Jack Krausz, the Jr. Bills took set two with a score of 25-21. 

The third and final set proved to be just as exciting as the first two. SLUH found its rhythm at the start of the set better than they had in the first two sets with a lead of 5-3, but they still believe they could have started off hotter than they did. The close, point-for-point nature that characterized the first set also characterized this set. Tied at 22, each team fought as hard as they could to earn the final points of the match. Three kills from Bone closed out the set at 25-22 and the match at 3-0. 

The high level match made the atmosphere of the gym very exciting, but the turnout of spectators also contributed to the crazy environment. With family, friends, coaches, and students covering the bleachers of both sides of the Field House, there was never a silent moment during the match. The team loves the energy that an atmosphere like this brings, and it greatly contributed to the success of the Jr. Bills. 

“Being able to look into the stands and see so many people kind of gave us an extra gear, and I think it meant a lot to all of us to see all of our friends in the stands wearing their pink shirts,” said senior setter Ben Harmon. 


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