RYAN CZACHORSKI Daily News
Effingham Daily News
---- — St. Anthony's experience showed in their opener against South Central Thursday, as the Bulldogs fended off a young but tough Cougar team on their way to a 25-18, 25-16 victory.
The two teams were tied at 16-16 in the first set, and the Bulldogs trailed 16-14 in the second, only to have St. Anthony push the tempo and cruise to take both sets and the win.
It wasn't a perfect opener for the defending National Trail Conference champion Bulldogs, coach Kristie Bailey said.
"Our passing was a bit off tonight. A lot of balls were passed too tight, that's usually a sign of nervousness," Bailey said. "We're trying to run a super fast offense, they weren't ready for it, we did a good job of not letting us slow them down."
South Central returned just two varsity players from last year, Maria and Lincoln Brasel.
It didn't look like that throughout, as the Cougars gave St. Anthony all it could handle for much of the match before falling late in each set.
"We are still learning, I think we're doing a fine job," said South Central coach Mary Brimberry. "I want them to give their effort 110 percent. I'm proud of that effort. St. Anthony's got a good program."
St. Anthony led almost all the way through both sets, but South Central was there the entire time.
In the first sets, a carry against St. Anthony tied the score at 16-16 after South Central continuously scraped back from two or three points down.
Megan Nuxoll headed to the service line, and the Bulldogs rattled off seven straight points on a block and kill by Lauren Schmidt, a kill by Logan Braunecker, a Nuxoll ace and a number of Cougar errors.
Just like that, St. Anthony was on its way to a 1-0 lead.
The second set played out similarly, with the Brasels and Karrigan Smith keeping South Central close. A faulty return by Nuxoll cut the lead to 16-14.
But again, the Bulldogs responded, getting two big kills each by Nuxoll and Lauren Wendt to push the score to 20-15 and a Cougar timeout. It wouldn't matter, as the Cougars had four returns go out on bounds and a line violation to end the match.
"We did have some errors, we know that," Brimberry said. "We've got to get passing. If we're not passing, we're not going to be setting and hitting.
The Bulldog offense found its rhythm late and pounced on any opportunity given to them by the Cougars.
"Our serving picked up toward the end of the games, we started serving a little more aggressively at their players," Bailey said. "When you give us free balls, we're going to do something with it."
Senior setter Haylee Mathis had 17 assists, two kills and two digs for St. Anthony. Wendt and Maggie Mumm each had five kills to lead the team, and Nuxoll led the team with seven digs.
South Central's Maria Brasel had two kills and two assists, while Diedra Schall had four points and four assists and Lincoln Brasel added two kills.
The Cougars (0-1, 0-1) faces St. Elmo/Brownstown next Thursday on the road.
St. Anthony moves to 1-0 on the season and 1-0 in the NTC. They return to action Tuesday, heading across town to face Effingham on the road.
South Central 18 16
St. Anthony 25 25
South Central: Schaal (4 points, 4 assists); M. Brasel (3 points, 2 kills, 2 assists); Smith (2 points, 1 kill); L. Brasel (1 point, 2 kills); Chapman (1 point, 2 kills, 1 assist, 1 block); Drum (2 points); Young (2 points)
St. Anthony: Wortman (3 digs); Mathis (17 assists, 2 digs, 2 kills); Wendt (5 kills); Schmidt (2 kills, 1 assist); Braunecker (1 kill, 2 digs); Mumm (1 ace, 5 kills, 2 digs); Nuxoll (2 aces, 4 kills, 7 digs); Schultz (1 ace, 4 digs)