Newton head coach Jill Kistner was a nervous wreck all day, not because Thursday's game was her team's first and her first as a head coach.
It was because against Effingham — where she used to be an assistant.
Her first match started well as Newton took the first set, 25-22, but Effingham got its act together to win the final two sets and the match, 25-17 and 25-22.
Newton came out serving aggressively, which caused Effingham trouble in the first set. Newton served for consecutive points multiple times in the first set, including streaks of five and six points at separate times, so Effingham head coach Laurie Bohnhoff made a change at libero.
Senior Josie Zerrusen, who started the game at libero so Bohnhoff could start six-foot sophomore Shelby Nunamaker, moved to the right side to start the second set and junior Madeline Mitchell took her place at libero.
Bohnhoff said the change made the team play better together and said it improved the team's passing on serves, which Zerrusen said is routinely the team's biggest challenge.
“(Mitchell) picked up my slack really well,” Zerrusen said. “She played great and picked up the team.”
Effingham trailed 8-3 in the beginning of the second set, but Mitchell brought the team back with six consecutive service points.
Kistner said Bohnhoff's switch from Zerrusen to Mitchell was great because it allowed the more athletic Zerrusen to play elsewhere on the court.
“Mitchell was great for them as libero and she picked up a lot of balls,” Kistner said. “Josie is an athlete and she's smart. She played one heck of a game.”
As Effingham's passing got better, their hitters worked around the net to break the team out to an 18-11 insurmountable lead in the second set.
Neither team trailed by more than three points in the final set, as Kistner said her team made more mistakes that cost them the game.
After building a 15-12 lead, Newton's team made two miscommunication errors on the floor, but the team continued to go to sophomore Taylor Johnson, who kept them in the game with six aces.
Effingham took an 18-17 lead late in the set, which they never gave up; although, Newton tied them once and came within one point of a tie four times.
“A lot of hitting errors down the stretch,” Kistner said. “Bad timing. When it comes to a close game like that, everything is magnified.”
Newton also fell victim to unlucky bounces off the net, including Johnson's last spike attempt that bounced off the top of the net and fell out of bounds, giving Effingham its game-clinching point.
“(Johnson) is so competitive that she'll mentally take herself out of a game, which is tough because she doesn't know that the girls around her need her, and that's a sophomore thing,” Kistner said. “I can't coach competitiveness, but I also have a tough time coaching it out of them.”
Kistner was disappointed her team didn't win, but said she was proud of the way the team played in its first game, especially Johnson.
“I was really proud of the volleyball tonight because it was at a high level,” Kistner said. “It was our first game. I know what to go back and work on in practice now. I'm OK with where we're at.”
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Newton	25 17 21Effingham	22 25 25
Newton: T. Johnson (6 aces, 4 kills, 1 block, 9 digs), Koebele (2 aces, 1 kill, 8 assists, 5 digs), Wyatt (1 ace, 1 dig), E Johnson (1 ace, 1 kill, 12 digs), Cartright (7 kills, 10 digs), Litzelman (2 kills, 1 block), Kline (1 kill, 1 block), Zerrusen (1 kill, 10 assists, 1 block, 5 digs)Effingham: Roberts (3 digs, 1 kill), Mitchell (8 digs), Donaldson (6 digs, 2 kills), Beals (1 dig, 2 kills, 2 blocks), Zerrusen (8 digs, 3 kills, 1 blocks), Ramey (6 digs, 1 assist, 10 kills, 1 block), Nunamaker (1 dig, 1 assist, 2 kills), Totten (2 digs, 21 assists, 1 kill, 1 ace, 1 block), Robb (2 digs, 2 assists, 9 kills, 2 aces, 2 blocks), Fred (2 digs, 1 assists)