DIETERICH — It didn't take long for those in attendance at Tuesday's Class 1A Dieterich volleyball sectional semifinals to realize they were in for a treat.

The four teams in attendance didn't disappoint as a pair of out-and-out battles broke out in Movin' Maroon country, and at the end of the night it was Cumberland and Lincolnwood (Raymond) still standing for Thursday's 7 p.m. championship match.

Cumberland (26-3) began the evening by avenging one of only three losses suffered all season, getting big hitting from all over the place as it outbattled Little Illini Conference rival Edwards County (34-3) 25-21, 20-25, 25-16.

St. Elmo (24-12) started off the second match with the same fire it took to upset top-seeded South Central in the regional finals, but in the end Lincolnwood (26-10) forced the youthful Eagles into too many mistakes as the Lancers prevailed 25-18, 25-23.

Match One

Some good battles with Cumberland over the past couple seasons let Linda Oxby Brown know she could expect another fight, but the Edwards County coach certainly wasn't expecting the Pirates to be the kind of buzzsaw her Lions ran into Tuesday night.

"Cumberland wasn't hitting like that the first time we played them," said Brown. "They've improved 100 percent since the end of September. Cumberland was the better team tonight, and they definitely took us out of some of the things we wanted to do.

"I hope we got beat by the state champs."

The Pirates ended the first game with four straight points to break a 21-21 tie, getting kills from Macy Shupe, Kasi Helmink and Kennedy Gabel over that stretch.

That balance was a microcosm of the entire match, in which Shupe led with 14 kills. Brandt, a tall, powerful middle, added 10 more kills and three blocks, while Helmink had seven kills, freshman Sadie Sparks provided a half-dozen of her own and and sophomore Kennedy Gabel contributed five.

While the strong hitting evaporated at times during a 25-20 game two loss, it didn't disappear completely for Coach Drew Robertson's club.

"I told the girls going into the third game that we had to be the aggressor," said the Cumberland mentor. "We need to attack. If we're going to lose, we're going to go out firing, and that's what we did."

Game three was tied five times leading up to a 13-13 deadlock, but a Shupe kill broke that deadlock and started a seven-point run that didn't end until the Pirates won the longest point of the match to go ahead 20-13.

"That big run on Brandt's serve gave us a ton of momentum," said Robertson. "It seemed like our will started taking (the match) back over."

From there, it would've taken a total collapse on Cumberland's part for Edwards County to escape the loss, and the Pirates were not about to comply.

Freshman Sadie Sparks closed out the match with a dramatic kill from the right side, her second successful attack down the stretch. Shupe also served up an ace to get it to match point.

"I didn't think we had a lot of defense against their hitters," said Brown, whose club's only other losses were to Decatur Lutheran and O'Fallon. "Our block was not there tonight. Usually, we're a pretty good blocking team. Our passes weren't there, so our sets weren't there. Our placement shots didn't get it done."

Seniors Melinda Jones and Jessica Knackmuhs came in as the Lions' well-known power hitters up front. Jones ended with 12 kills and Knackmuhs had nine, but most of that came in the middle game.

Jones wasn't even on the floor down the stretch of the finale, and Knackmuhs rarely got a clean look late thanks to Cumberland's superb blocking.

Match Two

Junior Ashley Fulk's center line violation to end St. Elmo's season was bitterly fitting, considering some of the mistakes the Eagles made after taking a quick 10-5 lead in their first game only to end up tied 14-14, 15-15, 16-16 and 17-17 before the Lancers found their groove and never really got out of it again.

"five missed serves," said St. Elmo coach Elise Asher, coaching her first sectional since 2003. "That was a killer for us, to battle back repeatedly and then to step up to the line and miss the first serve in a rotation. It just took the wind out of our sails on five different occasions.

"We should've been up probably by six later on in the match when we were down by three. I don't have a crystal ball, but I know you can't miss five serves at this stage and be successful."

After the first-game collapse, St. Elmo fought hard and didn't get run over, getting tying it at 23-23 after falling behind 13-8 and 16-10.

"I'm proud of the kids for their effort and for not throwing in the towel," said Asher. "It would've been easy to do at that point, but they really pulled back together. They came up with some big hits and a couple really great defensive plays."

In the end, some overaggressive service approach and momentum-killing passing errors spelled doom, and Fulk, who led the Eagles with nine kills and five digs, stepped too far under the net on an attack as St. Elmo tried to extend the match past 25 points.

"It's a tough way to end a match, but I don't want the ball in anyone else's hands in crunch time," said Asher of St. Elmo's career kills leader. "We've got to get it to Amy and let her do what she's good at and what she's done all year long.

"It just so happened that she came across the line. She did. It was a good call. I hate to end a match that way, but that's just the way it goes."

Asher said her young club, which has just three seniors and only two who are regulars (libero Hailey Carson and setter Lindsey Mills), never had the "deer in the headlights" look. Lincolnwood just started moving the ball around and getting the defense on the run, which in turn got the Eagles' offense out of sync.

"There's a lot to look forward to here," said Asher. "I thanked my seniors for being great leaders, team players and role players, which they were. They really paved the way for these young kids to get some experience and to get a taste of some success I don't think anybody expected us to have this year.

"Not that there will be pressure on these (returning) kids, but it's not just enough to win 20 ballgames anymore. They want to raise the bar a little bit, which they've done since junior high. We'll take a little break, come back together in the spring and summer, get a new focus and see what we come up with next fall."

Class 1A Dieterich Sectional

Semifinals

Match One

Cumberland —
Brittany Brandt, 10 kills, 5 digs, 3 stuff blocks; Macy Shupe, 14 kills, 11 digs, 2 aces; Casey Sowers, 11 digs; Kaitlyn Titus, 1 kill, 17 assists; Kennedy Gabel, 5 kills, 16 digs, 1 ace; Kasi Helmink, 7 kills, 2 stuff blocks; Sadie Sparks, 6 kills, 1 dig; Brittany Whitaker, 3 kills, 25 assists, 4 digs, 2 stuff blocks

Edwards County (Albion) — Jessica Knackmuhs, 9 kills, 9 blocks; Melinda Jones, 12 kills, 1 dig, 13 blocks; Clare Whitehead, 22 assists, 2 kills, 3 blocks; Chelsea Boewe, 5 kills, 6 digs, 1 block; Ashley Hout, 2 digs, 2 blocks; Mariah McDaniel, 1 dig; Deven Williams, 6 digs; Sara Greathouse, 2 kills, 1 dig, 4 blocks

Match Two

St. Elmo —
Lindsey Mills, 4 assists, 1 kill, 3 digs; Britani Beasley, 10 assists, 1 kills, 1 stuff block; Amy Fulk, 9 kills, 2 stuff blocks, 5 digs; Brooke Maxey, 7 digs, 2 assists,1 kill; Timber Morrison, 2 kills, 1 stuff block, 1 assist, 2 digs, 1 ace; Megan Durbin, 4 kills; Hailey Carson, 3 digs; Cassie Schmidt, 1 dig

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