Most new athletics teams experience growing pains. The Belleville East boys volleyball program is an exception to that rule.
The Lancers came out of the gates running in their first season four years ago, compiling a 15-7-2 record. They have progressively improved, with 17-7 and 21-5 marks the past two seasons.
The current campaign has been another step forward. Belleville East, No. 10 in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, is 22-3-2 heading into the regional finals.
“It’s been fun this year for sure, a good ride,” East coach Stefanie Gaubatz said.
The Lancers are hoping to keep the good times rolling in the regional tournament at Althoff. As the top seed, East has advanced to the final, where it will play the winner of Tuesday's 7 p.m. match Belleville West and Althoff.
The title match Wednesday will be played at 3:30 p.m. if Belleville West wins and 7 p.m. if Althoff wins.
The Lancers, who were unbeaten in Southwestern Conference play, are big favorites to advance to the sectional semifinal. They swept two-match series against Belleville West and Althoff.
Belleville East is paced by senior Ben Thomas, who leads the area in assists at 10.8 per game.
“He has a very high volleyball IQ," Gaubatz said. "He sees holes. He sees other teams’ weaknesses.”
Thomas has a stable of solid hitters he feeds. John Mathews leads the team with 165 kills. Sam Pruett (159), Taylor Quinley (119) and Josh Williams (117) also can put the ball down.
“I really feel that’s what makes us so successful,” Gaubatz said. “Against a team with one or two guys who can hit, it’s easy to put up a block, but when you can move the ball around that’s when teams may struggle against you.”
Effective passing also is in good hands at East with senior Seth Procasky, who has 272 service receives with only 11 errors and 252 digs with only 35 errors.
“He was on the all-tournament team at the Lafayette Tournament, and he won the Most Valuable Player award at O’Fallon,” Gaubatz said. “It’s really unheard of for a libero to win the MVP. He does his job well and is solid all the way around.”
Gaubatz is thrilled with how the year has gone for the Lancers, who have won nine straight matches heading into the regional tournament. None of those matches have gone three games.
“I think (the season) has been more of a success than I anticipated,” Gaubatz said. “Not to take anything away from the guys. But I didn’t know how we’d fill all the holes.”
If the Lancers can get past Althoff or Belleville West, they will battle the winner of the Edwardsville regional Friday in the sectional semifinals. The site and time of that contest has not been announced.
O’Fallon, the top seed in Edwardsville, is 19-6-1. The Panthers will play Granite City (1-11) in the semifinals Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Host Edwardsville (16-13) will play East St. Louis (3-12) in the other semifinal at 7:30.
The final is Wednesday at 7 p.m.