For the Daily News
---- — VANDALIA – The newness of the St. Elmo/Brownstown volleyball co-op didn’t just affect the players on Thursday in the Lady Eagles’ season-opener at Vandalia. It had their veteran coach feeling butterflies too.
“I’m always nervous before a game,” St. Elmo/Brownstown coach Elise Asher said. “But even more so tonight with a kind of Fayette County showcase and all you (media) guys here.”
Those nerves showed early on, as the Lady Vandals dominated the first game from the service line, cruising to a 25-17 first-set win. But St. Elmo recovered to claim a 25-23 win the second set to push the match to a winner-take-all third game.
The Lady Eagles looked poised to pull off a mild upset of Class 2A Vandalia early on, enjoying a 16-10 lead at one point, but the Lady Vandals’ duo of Johanna Walton and Megan Godoyo proved too much down the stretch, as Vandalia rallied for a 25-23 win.
Despite the defeat, Asher was encouraged with her team’s effort.
“I asked them to do three things tonight: hustle, make serves and take a breath,” Asher said. “They did what I asked them to do. The physical mistakes we can correct.”
St. Elmo made most of those mistakes in the first game, as Vandalia served up eight aces and got a combined seven kills from Godoyo and Walton. Several other Lady Vandals serves weren’t technically aces, but were either not returned or the returns set up ideal Vandalia attacks.
“We struggled with serve receive,” Asher said. “I’m going to make a lineup switch to change some of the awkwardness in our rotation.”
The Lady Eagles served notice they were not going quietly by opening the second game with a 5-0 run, which was highlighted by a pair of Makayla Walk aces.
St. Elmo looked like it might cruise after that, as it led 22-15 at one point, but Jessica Sullens sparked a 7-0 Vandalia run from the service line with seven-straight points and a key dig to keep the game-tying run alive.
But the Lady Eagles regrouped and closed out the set victory on an Elizabeth Guerrero ace.
Vandalia lagged through the early stages of the third game much like St. Elmo/Brownstown did in the first game, and found itself trailing 16-10 after a Jenna Miller ace and a hitting error.
But a Walton stuff block got Vandalia back on track, kicking off an 8-0 run to set up a see-saw finish.
A Gabi Moore kill had the Lady Eagles up 19-18, but Walton came right back with a kill and a St. Elmo error put Vandalia up for good. Moore tried to rally the Lady Eagles late with a kill and ace to make it 24-23 Vandalia, but Sullens – the Lady Vandals’ setter – finished the match with a stuff block.
On a night in which both teams had few true individual standouts, Walton was a difference-maker for Vandalia in the middle, finishing with eight kills and four stuff blocks.
“You don’t see many lefthanded middles,” Asher said. “She’s a good hitter and she got where she needed to make attacks.”
Moore led St. Elmo/Brownstown with seven kills. She is the lone returning St. Elmo starter from the Lady Eagles’ super-sectional run last year. A handful of players return from Brownstown’s starting lineup, however.
“With the combination of those two schools, I think they are going to compete hard and be competitive,” Vandalia coach Allison Hall said. “And they’re well coached.”