The St. Louis U. High volleyball team was once again outplayed by De Smet Jesuit on tuesday. Struggling to return De Smet’s offensive fire, the Jr. Bills were unable to exact their revenge on the Spartan’s for snapping their 76 game win streak.
“I think everyone had this sort of hunger,” said senior libero Brooklyn Hollander. “I mean, we have always been talking about playing them ever since our match with them back in March. How couldn’t we think about playing them after that game?”
Considering the fact that the Spartans of Creve Coeur were the slayers of the Jr. Bills’ both flawless season back in 2022 and 78 game win streak in 2023, SLUH acquired a vengeance that was festering since the beginning of the season.
The match started, and quickly the Jr. Bills saw, as they had predicted, that this match would be no easier than their last encounter with their Jesuit brothers. With strong defensive and blocking schemes, De Smet took the upper hand early. But senior setters Henry Azar and Ethan Keutzer had no trouble finding holes in their block using senior middles Eric Pudlo and Victor Lazzaretti. Junior outside Miles Rittenhouse had a couple great early kills and blocks. But later in the set, De Smet picked up a lot of the Jr. Bills’ swings, resulting in some frustration on SLUH’s end, and forcing many attacking errors. The Spartans closed out the set 17 – 25.
The Jr. Bills were more than disappointed, hoping to rewrite the past events by setting a new standard for this match. But they weren’t out yet, and they came back ferociously in the second set. From the first point, SLUH was hot on De Smet’s tail. Pudlo closed the gap at 5 – 6 after an enormous blocking, stunning those in attendance. DeSmet pulled away, however, due to some well paced offense. SLUH responded with a couple impressive kills from junior Jack Krausz, evening out the score 10 – 11. Again, Pudlo struck a ball to the floor that put the Jr. Bills back 13 – 13. Eventually, the Jr. Bills got to display some of their own defensive prowess on both the blocking and passing sides. Some notable blocks came from Rittenhouse, Keutzer, Lazaretti, and senior opposite Will Blaisdell, all making balls fall before the ten-foot mark. Blaisdell’s block and a following kill put the Jr. Bills up 24 – 22. Rittenhouse closed out the set with an enormous kill in the center of the court.
SLUH finally found their groove, not it was just a matter of maintaining that rythm. This has been one of SLUH’s most level learning curves, and a struggle that they successfully battleback against O’Fallon.
“Coach told us he wanted optimal focus starting now through the end of playoffs,” said Azar. “I think everyone realized this. We have never been very consistent in this regard, but we really tried to turn it around and find that consistency.”
Like the sets prior, De Smet and SLUH started out even footed. Eventually, the Jr. Bills were down two points to the Spartans, but Blaisdell and Rittenhouse delivered some balls to the hardwood to keep the score 9 – 9. But some more attacking errors left the Jr. Bills in a bind, putting them down 12 – 18. But Pudlo, coming out of a timeout, once again got a kill that broke the chain of points from the Spartans. But Desmet’s defensive coverage outmatched SLUH’s, and the Jr. Bill’s found themselves in a rut. They battled back, with Krausz getting a kill and a couple errors from DeSmet rallying to 17 – 22. But DeSmet coupled up a couple kills that ended the set 18 – 25.
SLUH had an early lead in the first set, with some notable kills from Pudlo and Lazaretti, setting the score 8 – 6. But the upcoming points resulted in multiple errors from both sides, most likely due to the stakes that this set presented and the mental stress it caused, bringing up a 13-all tie. DeSmet’s specialty resided in their blocking, earning multiple points off of Blaisdell’s swings, creating a three-point divide. A couple more errors from SLUH put DeSmet up 16 – 20. But two swings from Blaisdell and Rittenhouse kept the divide small. But the offensive pressure kept the Jr. Bills on their heels, and just a few more errors won the Spartans the fourth set 25 – 19, ending the match in a disappointing defeat.
“I think we showed how much we have improved since our first meeting against DeSmet,” said assistant coach Leo Henken. “Our level of play was much higher and we did the little things well. We gave them a much tougher fight than our first match, but we really did struggle to maintain that fight all four sets. The difference was truly just a few little things her and there during the third and fourth sets. But again it was a great match to show how much we have improved.”
Head coach Jeff Pieschel puts it short and to the point initially: “They are good!. DeSmet came in with a very relaxed approach and put on the pressure from the very beginning. They made a lot of controlled touches on defense and put themselves in the system at a high rate. We struggled to match that while also struggling behind the service line. Those two things combined make it tough to beat a team like DeSmet. But we aren’t out of the race. We still have one more match to win to show that we are ready for state”
And Pieschel was correct; the Jr. Bills still had room to prove themselves. The very next day, the Jr. Bills had a great match against the Mustangs of Marquette, three-set sweeping the team and executing all their skills to the highest degree. But above all else, it came down to the consistency of play that kept the Jr. Bills dominating throughout the match.
The first set went very well for the Jr. Balls. With a well established front line in both blocking and attacking, the defense could capitalize and make smoother moves to off shot balls to create more attacking opportunities. The defensive coverage that the Jr. Bills showed off this game was the best they had shown all season. With Azar, Blaisdell, and Hollander possessing some notable touches. The Jr. Bills were up 19 – 8 at the first timeout, and they continued the pressure. With such a huge lead, SLUH was swinging for the fences, scoring some massive kills, and ending the set 24 – 11. A nice cover off a block from Blaisdell, a dime set from Keutzer, and a swift kill from the back row by Krausz ended the set.
The Jr. Bills were revving now. With that large of a lead, the Jr. Bills were super confident in their abilities and their energy was unmatched. But now it circles back to that notion of maintaining that energy through the start of the second set. Right out of the gate, the Jr. Bills established their dominance. Multiple serving aces, defensive touches, and hard driven balls started a five point differential. Lazaretti and Rittenhouse gave SLUH another three points, setting the score 12 – 4. Lazaretti then immediately put down two spikes in a row after the Jr. Bills got themselves a ball handling error. Rittenhouse again hit four balls during a single rally, and found an empty spot on the court with a block that started a ten point at 18 – 8. Then Hollander got behind the endline, and fired an onslaught of serves that stopped the Mustangs in their tracks and gave the Jr. Bills an absurd upperhand at 23 – 10. With an ace from Blaisdell, and a sneaky dump from Keutzer, the Volleybills closed out the set 25 – 12.
The Jr. Bills had finally executed their longtime goal of staying true to their achievements of the first set, but the team was getting a little bit ahead of themselves by the start of the first set. The team made some rather confounding errors that were not usually, especially in a game like this. But it seems a couple players were coming to a similar conclusion as to why it was happening.
“I think everyone realized that this is the game to start pushing our mentality and really focus on starting out hot,” said Azar. “Throughout the sets we didn’t lose focus and prioritized keeping up the ball at all costs, and our blocking really helped carry the team – a skill that is improving significantly. But at the start of the third set, although we were focused, we got jumpy, and tried to play 100 miles per hour.”
But the Jr. Bills were able to separate at 4 – 4 with some impressive serves and some clever decisions by Keutzer. A couple more serves from Blaisdell, and some swings that reached over the blocks from Krausz and Rittenhouse put SLUH in a nice spot at 10 – 7. One of Marquette’s players went on a three point serving run, but the Jr. Bills fought back for their points, setting the score back even. The match continued as such, until Blaisdell served another four aces in a row and put the Bills up 18 – 15. A huge block and kill from Pudlo gave the Jr. Bills two more points. Jack Krausz closed out the game against Marquette with three high-impact, high-tempo serves, topping off the 2023 regular season of SLUH volleyball.
“It was a game we knew we had to play our best in,” said Rittenhouse. “I think it was the first time where we had every single player clicking the whole match. The kill statistics were even, we passed well all game, and really put on the pressure with our serving. Overall, a great way to end the regular season – against a good team by an impressive margin.”
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