The better team will show itself in the National Trail Conference tournament today through Saturday, with the three top seeds entering as the favorites to take home the conference.
Top-seeded Stew-Stras, second-seeded St. Anthony and third-ranked Altamont lead three pools of teams to decide who will play in Saturday’s Gold Flight that will decide the champion in a round robin tournament. The three teams all beat each other, with Stew-Stras falling to Altamont and Altamont falling to St. Anthony.
Stew-Stras finished the season on a high note, beating previously unbeaten St. Anthony last week to force a three-way tie for first place. The Comets ended the regular season Wednesday by beating Ramsey.
“Everybody is going to be out for blood,” Stew-Stras head coach Ronda Schlechte said. “There are so many teams that are strong and you never know what’s going to happen. We know we have to work and we’re hoping we can just play our game.”
Still, other teams lie in wait. Neoga drew the fourth seed with a 5-3 record, with size and skill at the net with Courtney Croy, Jillian Deters and Olivia Ott. Fifth-seeded South Central has hung in with plenty of tough teams throughout the season, and sixth-seed St. Elmo/Brownstown is coming off a deep run in last year’s postseason as just St. Elmo. The Eagles nearly knocked off Altamont earlier this season, going to three sets and a final set score of 30-28 Altamont.
The one-loss Comets begin tournament play at 6 p.m. on Friday, playing Windsor, and will play two hours later against St. Elmo/Brownstown. Windsor and St. Elmo/Brownstown play each other at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Enlow Center.
Second-seeded St. Anthony (23-5, 7-1 NTC) wont play until Friday and its pool – in a group with South Central and Cowden-Herrick – will be the last one decided.
St. Anthony played each of the other tops teams in the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs beat Altamont on the road in two sets. Last week, they lost to Stew-Stras at home.
With the recent loss to Stew-Stras, St. Anthony head coach Kristie Bailey said she added a new wrinkle into her team’s offensive game plan, allowing Haylee Mathis to take more of an attacking approach. They tested it out in a two-set win over Vandalia Tuesday, with Mathis racking up 13 assists and 10 kills on 11 attempts. Freshman Jenna Woltman will share setting duties with Mathis, and she had eight of her own against Vandalia.
“She needs to put balls down,” Bailey said of her senior standout Mathis.
St. Anthony fell in two sets to Stew-Stras and will start play at 6 p.m. Friday against Cowden-Herrick. They’ll be in the final game of pool play, against South Central at 8 p.m.
Following that loss, Bailey pulled the trigger on some changes she’d be contemplating despite her team’s success in the conference. Now, the Bulldogs have their eye on competing with top-flight competition in the NTC tournament and beyond.
“I’ve been kind of wondering for a while if we need to change things, but we’d been winning,” she said. “We weren’t playing to our potential.”
South Central and Cowden-Herrick play each other at 7 p.m. on Friday in Goff Gym. South Central is the fifth seed in the tournament.
Altamont’s pool is four teams and split up between the two pool play days on Thursday and Friday. Altamont (20-5, 7-1) kicks off the tournament against Beecher City at 5 p.m. Thursday and plays two hours later against Dieterich.
The Indians will play again on Friday, against Neoga at 5 p.m. Neoga is the fourth seed in the tournament and plays two games on Thursday, and the one on Friday.
The break could be beneficial to both sets of Indians, but Altamont coach Tim Dooling said he’d look at as an advantage no matter what the breakdown was.
“As a coach, you look at the advantages either way,” he said. “For us it’s good, at this point at the season, we like to play games. We get to play two games on Thursday, one on Friday, and that will sharpen you.”
Altamont’s size at the net and number of dangerous hitters makes them a tough out, but Dooling played his comments close to the vest.
“I try to focus on our total game,” he said. “You want to make sure you bring the total package, you need to bring your service, your receiving, your blocking, your hitting.
“If you have a breakdown in one area, you can get yourself in a tight spot. We need to be good in every area. It’s getting to the point in the season where everyone’s getting (good in every area).
Dieterich and Beecher City will play at 5 p.m. in Goff Gym, as Altamont and Neoga play simultaneously at the Enlow Center.
Games begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday as the third-place teams from each pool will play in the Bronze Flight. Second place teams start play at 1 p.m., while the Gold Flight to decide the champion starts at 5 p.m.
The winners of Pools A and C will play at 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Enlow Center. The first place team from Pool B plays the Pool C winner at 6 p.m., before the winners of Pools A and B play each other at 7 p.m.
The winner will be determined from the three games in the Gold Flight, based off of who comes out of their two Gold games with the best record – a 2-0 team in the Gold Flight would be the winner.
There are a number of scenarios for tiebreakers, but a two-way tie would be decided by which team beat the other in the Gold Flight.
In the event that each of the three Gold teams go 1-1, the first tiebreaker would be games won and played, followed by winning percentage and point differential.
If all of the teams match each other in the three tiebreakers, a deciding game to 15 would be played between the remaining tied teams.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.
6. St. Elmo/Brownstown
2. St. Anthony
5. South Central
10. Beecher City