EFFINGHAM -- Jay McAtee leapt into the waiting arms of his assistant coaches.

A few feet to his left, his daughter Karlee McAtee hit the floor, surrounded by her teammates.

Finally on Wednesday, Mount Zion collected its first volleyball sectional championship with a 25-20, 25-22 win over Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin at the Class 3A Effingham Sectional.

"It was the battle I thought," Jay McAtee said. "It was a match of runs. We got on a run, they got on a run. That happens when you have good teams is you've got to fight for every point.

"I am so proud of these girls. I've had this feeling a couple times before and I know coach (Dennis) Vaughn and I wanted them to feel what they're feeling right now because you just can't buy it."

Mount Zion opened both sets up on runs before the Cyclones stormed back to put Mount Zion (35-4) on its heels each time.

But the Braves had an answer for every run Sacred Heart-Griffin (27-8) went on.

Mount Zion simply had too many weapons.

Karlee McAtee led the Braves with 10 kills, Reiley Drake had eight of her own, Hayden Engelbrecht and Dayna Kennedy each had six and Kaitlyn Lillpop recorded a timely three kills.

Those kills were set up by Ali Vaughn's team-high 27 assists.

On defense, McAtee (11), Madi Crawford (10) and Drake (10) each record double-figure digs for Mount Zion.

SHG had strength in its outside hitters, led by Renee Abernathy. That freed up the middle of the court for Lillpop and Hayden Engelbrecht.

"We were just tearing them up in the middle," Jay McAtee said. "Their athletes are on the outside. They were double blocking everything on the outside. That left one-on-one with our middles and our middles are as good as anybody's. We only have so many sets to dish out every night so while some numbers are not eye-popping, look at their hitting percentage."

On Wednesday, that hitting percentage was .545 for Engelbrecht and .429 for Lillpop.

Time after time on defense, Lillpop sent the ball back from which it came on her way to three blocks.

"This was probably one of my best games just because blocking was really important," Lillpop said. "We worked on it a lot during practice so I knew how important it was."

But four years ago she was cut from her sixth grade team before that. Wednesday, she was a key cog in a sectional championship.

"I really just focused on myself and the basics of volleyball," Lillpop said. "I wasn't really worrying about where I went, but rather how I got there. It was just kind of a progressive staging up."

"She is such a good offensive weapon," Jay McAtee said. "That's what hard work does right there."

Leading 18-17 in the first set, the Braves went on a 6-0 run to all but ice the opening set.

In the second set, Mount Zion attacked early, leading 8-2 before SHG came back to lead 19-15, forcing Jay McAtee into a timeout.

Mount Zion made adjustments to attack the middle, but the Braves also knew they wanted to avoid a decisive third set.

"We just knew that nothing good happens when we go to three (sets)," Kennedy said. "We wanted to get it done in two. We just needed to come together, get one pass, get it to one of our hitters and put it down to get on a roll."

Mount Zion travels to Salem Friday for the Class 3A Salem Super-sectional against Belleville Althoff.

"I don't care who we play, where we play, indoors or outdoors, it doesn't matter," Jay McAtee said. "I'm just glad we're playing Friday night."

Joey's take

A reversal

After starting slow in Monday's semifinal match against Taylorville, the Braves attacked early Wednesday.

Early success in both sets helped to build a lead for the Braves, allowing a little more room for error.

But even after a first-set win in which the Braves never trailed, they knew they had to find more in the tank.

"We knew they were going to come out even more aggressive than they did in the first set because they were obviously a good team," Kennedy said.

SHG coach Sandy Hamilton attributes some of her team's slow start to nerves.

"To me, I felt like it was a pretty equal match for us in terms of the first and second games," Hamilton said. "We were working ourselves into a tizzy. I saw a couple people shaking their hands, we looked so nervous. We've been in this position before, but it's one of those things where its match has its own life and tonight our life was not our best."

No shortcomings

Karlee McAtee and Drake make up part of a five-headed monster for the Braves, but those two specifically had their work cut out for them Wednesday.

SHG's hitters Renee Abernathy and Payton Vorreyer posed a massive threat on the outside.

"We knew Reiley and Karlee would have to work for anything tonight because they're not jumping over anybody. It was a big block there all night long," Jay McAtee said.

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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