BELLEVILLE • As if Mater Dei needed any more motivation on Saturday with it seeking its third win in a tournament title match this season, the Knights got plenty more when they looked through the net and saw the Cougars of crosstown archrival Breese Central staring back at them.
“We get pumped to play against them, and it’s always an exciting match,” Mater Dei senior Emily Koelling said.
This one was a little more exciting than the Knights thought it would be, particularly the first game. They trailed almost the entire first set before rallying for a win, and then took Game 2 en route to a 26-24, 25-18 sweep of Breese Central in the final of the 15th Annual Belleville East Metro Classic.
“Six years ago, we couldn’t even get into the championship game here,” Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers said. “I remember the first time we got in it how big a deal that was. Now, winning it three times in a row ... I don’t know what to say. It takes so much (to win it).”
It certainly took a lot of persistence for the Knights (24-1, No. 1 in the STLhighschoolsports.com small-schools rankings) to get a victory in Game 1. They were down 7-1 before a lot of people settled into their seats. They never let Breese Central stretch that lead -- and ultimately made it disappear -- over the next several minutes, however.
Behind great efforts at the net from Merideth Kloeckner and Maddie Timmermann, who each finished with seven kills in the match, the Cougars (9-10) led 24-22 late in the contest. However, the Knights overcame two match points thanks to back-to-back kills by Koelling, an ace by Madison Haake and a kill from Bailey Kampwerth, who had seven of them in the two games.
“We knew it wasn’t over,” Koelling said. “We were only down by two. We just had to kick it into gear and play our game.”
They did, and they carried the fine play into the second set, too. Unlike the first game, they led from wire-to-wire in Game 2. The Cougars didn’t give up, though, fighting back from a 15-10 deficit at one point and cutting Mater Dei’s lead to 16-15.
But the Knights finished off the contest with a 9-3 run with Tori Johnson doing a lot of the heavy lifting down the stretch with solid attacks and blocks.
“We’re all just excited,” said Koelling of the win. “We’re just pumped. We were really nervous about that first game. Central really brought it in the first game. We were really excited to come back.”
Cougars coach Jim Cook was extremely pleased his team earned its way into the title match, but he wished it could have pulled off what would have been a huge upset of the Knights.
“Yeah, we’ve come a long way,” he said. “There are just certain things out there, certain moments in each game, that we have to clean up and get better at. But we’re making strides, a lot of positive strides.”
Alison Lampen led the Knights with six kills, 17 digs and 22 service receives with no errors. Johnson finished with five kills, Koelling had four and Lexi Kohnen and Haake both had 10 assists. Abby Luebbers recorded 18 digs, a number of them of the eye-popping variety.
Rakers would have preferred to have had a chance to play Quincy, which handed Mater Dei its lone loss this season, but the Knights got Breese Central, which it had beaten earlier this season in two games, instead.
“It’s good for both of us to play each other,” Rakers said. “But they don’t want to see us this much, and we don’t want to see them this much.”