Stew-Stras reached the potential that head coach Ronda Schlechte thought her team had this summer, taking the fight to St. Anthony to force a three-way tie at the top of the National Trail Conference.
Schlechte said her team showed what it was capable of in the two-set win Tuesday night that moved the Comets into a tie for first place with St. Anthony and Altamont.
“The team has had an emotional roller coaster this year,” Schlechte said. “Once I saw what they could do this summer, I wanted to stay at that level and keep driving.”
The Comets kept driving against St. Anthony, holding off late-set comebacks to win each set 25-22 after having taken early leads – including a 9-5 lead, in the second set, and later 23-17.
Schlechte said her team's emotion pushed them through the sets, as the Comets were excited to prove themselves against the Bulldogs, who entered the night alone atop the NTC.
“You don't always have that,” Schlechte said of top competition. “We were ready for that tonight.”
St. Anthony, on the other hand, may not have been ready for how strong and aggressive Stew-Stras played, head coach Kristie Bailey said; in fact, Bailey said the Comets are as good a team as her team has played since the Mahomet-Seymour tournament on Sept. 14.
“They kind of dismantled us,” Bailey said. “Defensively, they dug everything we had and we're not used to that. We were a little surprised and, oh man, they have some guns.”
The Comets' Kendall Knop led the team with 12 digs, while Becca Schlechte had 11 and Baylee Quast finished with seven.
Stew-Stras took a quick 4-2 lead in the first set, but had to battled back into the game when the Comets trailed 13-10. Taking a 16-15 lead, the Comets never trailed again in the set, but didn't lead by more than three points the rest of the way.
The Bulldogs came back from down 19-16 to tie the game 20-20, but Schlechte said her team focused on finishing the set strong instead the frustration of allowing St. Anthony back into the game.
“That's something that we don't always do,” Schlechte said. “We didn't let a point from (St. Anthony) get us down. We were able to stay up with momentum and fight back.”
Bailey said she saw the game slipping away from her team before the Bulldogs went on a scoring run, but even then she said it was too late.
“I could see it in their faces,” Bailey said. “We haven't played a great team in a while. When a team puts the pressure on you, it's all about what you do – and we crunched.”
Stew-Stras scored five of the last seven points in the first set and took a 9-5 lead to begin the second set, before St. Anthony came back to tie the set and take the lead one point later, 12-11.
Again, the Comets stayed focused after falling behind and their strong hitters – led by Knop's 13 kills – led them to a 20-14 lead and on the verge of putting away the Bulldogs.
“We were a little surprised,” Bailey said. “We were getting used a lot tonight on our block, which usually doesn't happen. That's because their outsides hit so hard.”
Stew-Stras was one point away from a victory, 24-20, when St. Anthony scored two straight points; however, St. Anthony sent a serve long and the celebration for the Comets began.
“It seemed like forever,” Schlechte said of the time it took to get the final point. “Thank goodness for a missed serve. My heart is still pounding.”
Schlechte said it was important to finally beat St. Anthony, but said her team has to stay focused on what's ahead in the NTC tournament – especially St. Anthony's new-found motivation to beat Stew-Stras in the tournament, she said.
“I want to keep their heads on right because we have a lot of work to do,” Schlechte said. “We're not just going to be able to take (St. Anthony) again without working hard on it.”
The Comets will play in the Pana Tournament on Saturday, before a home game against Ramsey on Wednesday. St. Anthony will play against Vandalia on Tuesday. The NTC tournament starts Oct. 17.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stew-Stras	25 25St. Anthony	22 22
Stew-Stras: Schlechte (1 ace, 2 kills, 12 assists, 11 digs, 1 block), Quast (2 kills, 10 assists, 7 digs), Knop (13 kills, 12 digs), Tabbert (3 kills, 5 digs, 2 blocks), Burton (5 digs), Stremming (2 kills, 6 digs, 1 block), Locke (1 dig), Kaufman (2 aces, 1 kill, 1 block)St. Anthony: Woltman (5 digs), Mathis (2 kills, 2 digs, 14 assists, 3 blocks), Wendt (2 kills, 2 digs, 1 block), Braunecker (8 kills), Mumm (2 digs, 1 assist), Nuxoll (5 kills, 14 digs), Schultz (9 digs), Schmidt (4 digs)