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Edwardsville vs. O'Fallon boys volleyball

O'Fallon setter Connor Sheehan (3) passes as Edwardsville's Josh Whittenburg defends during a volleyball match on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at Edwardsville High School in Edwardsville, Ill. Paul Kopsky,

BELLEVILLE — O’Fallon junior Connor Sheehan has no regrets.

Sheehan used to be a two-sport athlete, juggling volleyball with baseball. But after his mother, Amy, was hired as O’Fallon’s boys volleyball coach, he decided to fine-tune his focus.

Since then, he has taken his skill on the court to another level.

Sheehan turned in another strong performance Friday, leading the Panthers to a convincing 25-14, 25-21 sweep of Edwardsville in a Belleville East Sectional semifinal at Belleville East High.

“My goal was just stay controlled the whole game on offense and I think we did that,” he said.

The 5-foot-11 setter kept the offense rolling by spreading the ball between four different attackers, racking up 26 assists in the 40-minute match.

“I think as a player he has become more developed and mentally sound,” Amy Sheehan said. “Instead of just setting the ball, he does the strategy part involved in it. I feel like he has a good relationship with his hitters, he trusts his hitters and he feels comfortable giving them the ball.”

Connor Sheehan’s main go-to is outside hitter Justin McMahon, who put down nine kills for O’Fallon (24-8). But Connor Sheehan did a good job of keeping the Tigers’ block off McMahon by going to the Panthers’ other outside hitter, Easton Gavin (four kills), and to the middle for Eric Toftemark (seven kills) and Hunter Loyet (eight kills).

“The key was just communication, just making sure everyone was on the same page and knew what were we’re doing and it came through,” McMahon said.

O’Fallon will play Minooka in the sectional final at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Belleville East. The Panthers have knocked Edwardsville (19-9) out of the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.

The Southwestern Conference rivals split matches in the regular season, with Edwardsville taking the last round in a sweep at home on April 23. This time, however, O’Fallon took control from the outset.

“I guess we were just prepared for them,” Connor Sheehan said. “We came prepared. We were ready to play at the first whistle.”

O’Fallon took control of the first set with a 9-1 run. Toftemark had a pair of kills and Loyet a pair of blocks to help push the lead to 18-11.

Gavin added pair of kills down the stretch to push the advantage to double digits.

“We didn’t follow our game plan,” Edwardsville coach Scott Smith said. “Our game plan was to cut off their cross block a lot more and that wasn’t happening. We weren’t forcing them to mix things up as much as we could.”

O’Fallon held a slim lead early in the second set  before a 3-0 spurt created some separation. McMahon, Toftemark and Loyet each had four kills in the frame before an Edwardsville hitting error ended the match.

“Our serve-receive was phenomenal tonight,” Amy Sheehan said. “We worked a lot on serve receive and on defense and communicating. We said if you communicate this match on defense you’ll be successful.”

Max Sellers had six kills and Josh Whittenburg added four more for Edwardsville. Brock Hennig chipped in 12 assists.

“They wouldn’t let us get anything started with their fantastic net defense,” Smith said. “We weren’t hitting the ball into the net or against the wall too often. It was just against their hands and they weren’t letting us tool.”

O’Fallon has a shot to win its first sectional since 2015.

“Our hitting was really good and we had a great block,” McMahon said. “Our defense, hopefully we can get better on that and that will help us win the next game.”

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