The end of the school year is approaching and things are slowly winding down, but the St. Louis U. High volleyball team is just heating up. The Jr. Bills took the court at the Parkway Central Tournament this past weekend, improving their record to 15-0 and continuing their set streak to a staggering 40-0. On Friday night, they swiftly advanced past Parkway North (25-8, 25-10) and Marquette (25-20, 25-13). On Saturday, however, they faced challenges from Lafayette and Kirkwood, but ended with a victory in both matches to win the gold for the weekend.
The semifinal against Lafayette was a tight match with back and forth play throughout. The Jr. Bills got off to a hot start with a lead of 5-0 in the first set, forcing an early timeout for the Lancers. The timeout worked, as Lafayette soon took a 9-8 lead. However, thanks to stellar attacks from the front row and a service run from senior Ben McCabe, SLUH took back a lead of 18-11. The team was starting to find its rhythm, getting Lafayette out of system on nearly every point. With the Lancers out of system, SLUH’s offense seemed unstoppable.
However, that unstoppability proved fleeting as Lafayette started to slowly pick away at SLUH’s deficit, closing the gap to a mere three points. SLUH persisted, though, winning the set 25-20 after a net violation by Lafayette.
In the second set, SLUH took an early lead of 4-1 after two service aces by senior outside hitter Peter Quinn. Lafayette applied more pressure on the Jr. Bills in the second set than the first, and the two teams tied throughout the majority of the set. Only after a momentum-changing point with a defensive combo between McCabe and junior Ben Harmon did SLUH have a comfortable lead of four. The Jr. Bills, a few points later, clinched the win when Lafayette blockers were in the net, the same way the first set ended.
The match against Kirkwood proved to be just as competitive. Having multiple threats in their front row, the Pioneers’ offense was hard to stop. An attacker on Kirkwood’s offense was actually a younger brother of senior middle hitter Michael Krausz, therefore a sibling rivalry was at stake. This rivalry seemed to be motivation for Krausz, contributing to two blocks and a kill to put the Jr. Bills up 5-4 in the first set.
The two teams played evenly throughout the first half of the set, which was tied up until a four-point service run by junior setter George Henken that put SLUH up 14-10. After more consistent play from both teams, two kills from junior right side hitter Michael Yemm kept the score difference at four, and following a kill and block assist from Krausz, Kirkwood was forced to call a timeout with SLUH up 19-15. A Quinn ace and a Yemm kill ended the set, the Jr. Bills winning 25-20.
The second set might have had a closer score, but SLUH was the dominating force throughout its majority. An early four-point service run by junior libero Tanner Dougherty forced a Kirkwood timeout at 8-3. More commanding play by the Jr. Bills resulted in a 15-9 lead, one that seemed, at the time, too large for Kirkwood to overcome. But the Pioneers put themselves back within two points, taking advantage of multiple SLUH errors. With the intent of regrouping and refocusing his team, head coach Jeff Cheak called a timeout. The timeout was a success. Yemm instantly got a kill, putting the Jr. Bills back on track to win.
SLUH was then up 23-22 with Kirkwood serving; arguably the most important point of the match was at stake. One point by SLUH would give them a match point, and one point by Kirkwood would tie it up, giving them an opportunity to extend the set time. With the Kirkwood blockers up to block a Yemm swing, a Pioneer outside hitter hit the net, a point to SLUH. The referee, however, missed the blatant net violation, resulting in a tie game at 23-23. Having trouble focusing after the controversial call, there was doubt on the SLUH side if they could still come out with a win. The next point, with Yemm up to attack again, the Kirkwood blocker touched the net. This time the ref made the correct call, awarding the point to the Jr. Bills. SLUH was now up 24-23.
A strong and convincing hit by Yemm clinched the win for SLUH, narrowly outscoring Kirkwood 25-23.
The most notable contributor to the Jr. Bills’ success was Yemm, who tallied the team high in kills in both the semifinal and final, with 13 kills against Lafayette and 10 kills against Kirkwood.
This weekend, despite its success, was full of uncertainty.
Junior outside hitter Phillip Bone and sophomore middle hitter Will Blaisdell were both missing in action. Their absences forced Cheak to reorganize his team’s starting lineup. Even with Blaisdell out, there were enough middles who already had spots in previous starting lineups to take his spot. The team was confident the middles would get the job done.
Bone’s spot, however, was a different story. Because Bone is heavily relied on, stepping into his shoes was a big ask. Cheak chose senior Brendan McLaughlin to fill in for all four games over the weekend. McLaughlin lived up to the expectations, contributing multiple kills and key defensive plays.
The Jr. Bills are set to play at De Smet tonight and are also participating in the Lafayette Tournament this weekend. Similar to the Parkway Central Tournament, this weekend’s tournament will provide SLUH with competition to help prepare them for their quest for gold at the State Championships.
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