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Lafayette vs. Marquette volleyball

Marquette's Blake O'Brien returns a serve during the Class 4 District 3 volleyball championship on Wednesday, October 24, 2018, at Parkway South High School in Manchester, Mo. | Gordon Radford - Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

Marquette girls volleyball coach Tammy Becker described this season as a roller coaster.

With a young but talented squad, the Mustangs have experienced their share of highs and lows. That was on display with their performance Saturday in the Summit Tournament.

Marquette (10-4) started slow but finished strong.

The Mustangs began pool play with a loss to Northwest-Cedar Hill, a team they beat earlier this season. They bounced back with wins over Hannibal, Ladue and No. 9 small school O’Fallon Christian in pool play.

Marquette continued its run after a lunch break, sweeping Summit in the semifinals and beating O’Fallon Christian again in the championship.

“I think everyone really came in and played as a unit,” Marquette senior Blake O’Brien said. “Even the younger players, they really came and showed up for the tournament and that was a big key part of winning.”

Becker said junior middle hitter Jenna Gruender set a strong block and kept opposing defenses off-balance with a variety of attacks and junior setter Olivia Meier ran an efficient offense. Becker said O’Brien, the Mustangs’ libero, led a stout defensive effort.

O’Brien, fellow defensive specialist Trinity Harmon and right-side hitter Kathryn Toepke have provided Marquette's senior leadership.

“I think it can go a really long way,” Becker said. “My outside hitter is a freshman, my second outside hitter is a sophomore, one of my middles is a sophomore, we have defensive specialists who are sophomores. They start believing, ‘Oh my gosh, we can do this,’ and my leadership from my three seniors has been exceptional this year. All three of them have taken the younger players by the arms and showed them the Marquette way.”

Marquette has played a tough schedule. Two of its losses came to defending Class 4 state champion Eureka and in a nail-biter against No. 3 large school Oakville.

“Being able to get that competition early on helps us fix the problems that we wouldn’t have seen if we would have played lesser competitive teams,” O’Brien said.

BELLEVILLE EAST REGROUPS AFTER TOUGH LOSS

The Lancers suffered a disappointing result last week in getting swept by rival Belleville West.

But Belleville East (9-6) responded with a strong showing in its own tournament Saturday with a third-place finish. The Lancers beat Metro-East Lutheran and Jerseyville in pool play before falling to eventual tournament champion Waterloo in the semifinals. They finished their day with another win over Jerseyville in the third-place match.

“I think all of us expected to play better when we played Belleville West and I think we could have used that to define our season and just take our lumps and play poorly, or we can change or mindset and fix it,” East coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. “That’s what we focused on this week is minimizing our errors and play good volleyball, clean volleyball.”

Gaubatz said middle hitter Hannah Mueth and outside hitters Peytyn West and Cami Augustine led the offense, while defensive specialist Kiley Schanuel headed a strong defense. Gaubatz said setter Rachel Mitts made good decisions in running the offense.

The Lancers lost starting middle hitter Kylee Crowder to a torn ACL right before the team’s season-opening scrimmage. Tyler Butler has stepped in to fill the opening.

“I think they need to be in that competitive mindset all day every day,” Gaubatz said. “In practice they have to compete and in matches they have to be really really focused on playing our game and minimize our errors and be focused on playing clean volleyball.”

QUICK SETS

• The Gateway Matchup Tournament at Oakville High is this week. The 19-team tournament kicks off pool play Wednesday and Thursday nights, with bracket play on Saturday.

• Winfield (8-7) won the New Haven Tournament on Saturday. The Warriors swept Bowling Green, New Haven and Belle in pool play and swept New Haven again in the championship.

• Liberty’s win over Washington has made the Gateway Central Conference race a four-team battle between those two schools, as well as Timberland and Fort Zumwalt North. All four teams have taken turns beating each other and will play each other again.

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