It took a second-set timeout for the St. Anthony Bulldogs to take control of the Class 2A Newton Sectional against Carlinville Thursday.
With the set tight in the first 15 points after a 25-17 Bulldog win in the first, coach Kristie Bailey had to remind the Bulldogs of what their identity was offensively.
"The second game, we came out, we played a little bit timid," Bailey said. "I called timeout and I said, 'Why are we tipping the ball? We are hitters. We hit the ball.' We came out and starting hitting again."
And hit they did, as a number of players chipped in en route to a 25-23 second-set win and the Bulldogs' first Super Sectional berth since 2009. The Bulldogs (33-5) will face undefeated Edwards County in the Hamilton County Super Sectional at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Lions have dealt St. Anthony two of its five losses, both coming early in the year.
Senior setter/hitter Haylee Mathis was glad to win, but wants more in her final season as a Bulldog.
"It feels great, I was going to be extremely disappointed if we didn't go far, because I know we can," Mathis said. "We have it, we have everything we need, we just need to put the heart and the effort into and we'll go all the way to state."
Things were tight early, with St. Anthony struggling to find its footing offensively. Down 10-7, the Bulldogs turned to Megan Nuxoll to tie up the game, and Mathis pushed them out to a 17-13 lead with two kills and two aces.
From there, the Bulldogs kept pushing toward a first-set victory, using the tip ball to their advantage before the second-set admonishment. Logan Braunecker and Nuxoll each had tips, and Maggie Mumm put the set away with two late aces for a 25-17 win.
While the offense got going slowly again in the second, St. Anthony relied on their defense to carry them through. Both coach and player were happy with the defensive effort.
"Our defense was on fire, especially the first game," Mathis said. "efense was the main thing tonight."
The play of the defense spurred the offense with a shot of momentum, Bailey said.
"Defensively, we played amazing," she said. "We were getting one arm on balls we normally don't get on."
Despite trailing 12-8, the Bulldog defense forced the Cavaliers into some mistakes and tied up the game. An Emily Wortman ace gave them a lead they'd never relinquish. Mathis had four kills for four straight St. Anthony points to give them a bigger lead.
With the score at 24-23, Carlinville had a chance to tie the match, but their kill attempt was blocked on a double block by Mumm and Lauren Wendt, ending the match.
It was a team effort all around, playing right into the Bulldogs' philosophy.
"We take eight people and all eight people have to do their job for us to win," Bailey said. "Tonight, they all did their job."
Mathis led the team with nine kills and 12 assists, and tied for the lead in aces with Mumm and Nuxoll. Wendt and Mumm each had a block, and Nuxoll led the way with 10 digs.
The effort by Mathis was bolstered by seven assists by freshman Jenna Woltman.
"(Mathis) did a great job, (but) I have to contribute a lot of that to Jenna Woltman," Bailey said. "Jenna knew she had to get it where she had to get it for Haylee to get around on it."
According to the IHSA website, St. Anthony has never advanced further than Super Sectionals. To move on further than that this year, they'll have do what no team has done: beat 39-0 Edwards County.
The losses came early in the season, before Mathis split time at setter and at hitter.
She believes the team can do it, and the Bulldogs wanted this matchup.
"We played them the first week of the year, in like a 48-hour period, we played them twice," Bailey said. "Our goal was to get back to them, we want to get back to them."
St. Anthony 25 25
Carlinville 17 23
St. Anthony: Wortman (1 ace, 3 digs); Mathis (2 aces, 9 kills, 2 digs, 12 assists); Woltman (7 assits); Wendt (2 kills, 1 dig, 1 block); Mumm (2 aces, 1 kill, 2 digs, 2 assists, 1 block); Nuxoll (2 aces, 8 kills, 10 digs); Schultz (7 digs); Schmidt (1 assist)