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MOUNT ZION — Reiley Drake kept serving. 

And then she served some more.

The Mount Zion junior spearheaded a 14-0 run in the first set Tuesday to help the Braves (9-0, 4-0) cruise past Mattoon 25-13, 25-10 in a battle of Apollo Conference juggernauts. 

Falling behind 4-1 in the first set felt like a distant memory after Drake's serves sparked Mount Zion on its big run. Dayna Kennedy and Karlee McAtee dominated at the net, producing big kill after big kill, and the Braves' defense moved in unison to stall every Mattoon attempt.

“I knew that I had to get them in and make it difficult for them to serve-receive,” Drake said. “I just tried to get it over and in and and get them out of system.”

Drake's serves present problems for opposing teams to receive. They don't spin. The 5-foot-7 junior leaps up and fires her serves over, almost on a straight downward trajectory, with left or right movement mixed in.

Not to mention, when she's serving, Mount Zion has a lot of power up front.

"That lineup when she's serving, we have three hitters in the front row — Dayna (Kennedy), Kaitlyn Lillpop and Karlee (McAtee) — so we've scored a lot of points on that rotation this year," Mount Zion coach Jay McAtee said. "Reiley's serves are aggressive and high percentage."

Drake tallied up a pair of aces and Kaitlyn Lillipop tallied four of her own to open the second set to spark an 8-0 run and give the Braves an early 8-1 lead.

The Green Wave (11-4, 3-1) just couldn't get going thanks to the Braves' serving. On a few occasions, Ashlyn MacDonald (7 kills) and Summerlyn Smith (2 kills, 9 assists, 14 digs) got the offense moving, but Mount Zion's defense wouldn't break.

“Their serving game just took us out of the offense most of the night," Mattoon coach Mark Jackley said. "When we're setting the ball in front of the attack line pretty much most of the night, that's going to make it tougher. When we did get the ball to the target, I thought we were effective at the net. Our perimeter attacks were able to get down. We even got a few middle attacks down."

Jackley called the this version of Mount Zion the best he's seen in his seven years coaching Mattoon.

He couldn't find a weakness.

"That's one of the best Mount Zion teams that we've played," he said. "We've heard a lot of good things about these guys, they're the real deal. You have to bring your 'A' game. We brought our 'A' game once in a while, but you've got to maintain.

“Their serving game is tough. Their ball control, they attack well. There's no weaknesses on that team. We look forward to playing them a couple more times."

Karlee McAtee (9) and Kennedy (6) led the Braves in kills and each had a block.

Mount Zion practiced for two hours, 10 minutes Monday to brace itself for Mattoon.

“We knew we had to put the ball away because we knew they're a very good defensive and offensive team," Karlee McAtee said. "We needed to put the ball down in order to get points and score."

Joey's Take

Net domination

Mount Zion's defense was on its game Tuesday. The Braves zoomed around the court to clear every gap. But their most impressive work was done at the net. Despite having one player, Kennedy, who is at least 6-feet tall, Mount Zion owned the net.

Kennedy, McAtee, Hayden Engelbrecht and Lillpop swatted away most of what Mattoon had to offer.

"We won the net all night long and if we win the net, then we've got a lot of hitters who can finish the point," Jay McAtee said.

Surprising performance

Even Jay McAtee was taken aback by how well his team played Tuesday. Mattoon entered perfect in conference play.

The Green Wave is loaded with impact players, but the four-headed monster of Mount Zion's Karlee McAtee, Lillpop, Drake and Kennedy were too much.

In addition to Karlee McAtee and Kennedy, Engelbrecht had three kills, Drake had a pair and Anna Tyrolt added two. 

The Braves hit from all over the court.

“I was shocked. It was just a great performance," Jay McAtee said. "As a coach, there's no part of the game I can complain about. The passing was good. The serving was good. The offense was excellent. We have a very good offensive team and when we're clicking and moving around and everybody's getting involved, it puts the other team on their heels and gets them off the net."

Keeping calm

There's a long way to go for Mount Zion, which is looking to avenge last season's Class 3A sectional semifinal loss. 

The junior class is loaded, including Drake, Kennedy, Aly Vaughn and Lillpop.

Jay McAtee is giving his team the night to be confident. But it all stops at 3 p.m. to begin Wednesday's practice.

“We know that we have to play hard to win the conference and keep a good record," Drake said. "We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we've been jelling more as a team and working together more to keep some good wins.



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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