MATTOON — Even with a strong start to the season, the Mattoon volleyball team hadn’t faced the team that’s had its number — along with the rest of the Apollo Conference — the past couple of seasons.
Mattoon started the season with an 12-2 record and had an early lead in the Apollo (3-0) coming into Tuesday’s match against Mount Zion. The Braves were just a game back at 2-1 and Mount Zion’s offense has given the Green Wave plenty of trouble in the past.
Mattoon’s serving and its block took Mount Zion’s hitters out of the equation, though. The Braves struggled to get a good first pass off from Mattoon’s serves and attacks right from the start and it continued throughout the match — a 25-23, 25-19 Green Wave win.
“We have waiting so long for this," Mattoon senior Morgan Otto said. "We’ve worked so hard in practice and every day has worked up to this point. We are thrilled we made it here."
Mount Zion coach Jay McAtee said Mattoon took his team’s offense out of the match.
“Our passing was horrible," McAtee said. "We’ve got a very good offensive team but when you are running your offense from 15, 20 feet off the court and trying to scamper to get the ball over the net, Mattoon deserved to win.
“They totally negated our strong suit, which is offense. They’ve got good size and pass the ball very well. We know what we need to work on.”
Because Mount Zion was unable to get a good first pass to its setter, it made its offense more predictable, which also allowed Mattoon’s block to flourish. The Green Wave finished with 10 blocks and it also forced numerous attack errors as the Braves either hit the ball off to the side or too long.
“We practiced working on our blocking and we had to press over because we knew they were a hard team,” Otto said. “We knew we had to turn our block in to shut them down.”
Mount Zion’s back row had problems with Mattoon’s serve for much of the match with free ball after free ball.
“Their serving was good, it was nothing that we haven’t seen before," McAtee said. "Forearm breaks and popping the ball straight up. Luckily it’s mid-to-early September and we’ve got time to work on it.”
Mattoon coach Dipen Patel said the team worked on aggressive serving during practice on Monday.
“After scouting and watching our opponents and taking them seriously, we prepared extremely well against them and tonight it showed,” Patel said.
Ali Vaughn had 24 assists in the loss for Mount Zion (6-3, 2-2 in the Apollo). Karlee McAtee had 12 digs and Caitlyn Maley had 11 digs. Reiley Drake had seven kills.
For Mattoon (13-2, 4-0), Brooklyn Edwards had a match-high 12 kills.
“She worked her butt off all week and she understood what it meant to work hard and understands that being a middle you only have three rotations to make a difference in the front row,” Patel said.