EFFINGHAM — The St. Teresa volleyball team has used a successful formula this year — jump out early and keep the opponent from catching its breath.
Even against a team that was coming off two straight state appearances in Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg, the Bulldogs' plan worked. St. Teresa beat the Hatchets 25-13, 25-27, 25-14 at Effingham St. Anthony for its first sectional championship since the last of four straight from 2010 to 2013.
St. Teresa (27-10) will face Jacksonville Routt at the Class 1A Nokomis Supersectional at 7 p.m. on Friday.
St. Teresa coach Brad Dalton was hoping his team would get off to a hot start but he was still surprised with how big of a lead the Bulldogs built early in the first set, going up 8-1.
It helped that the Bulldogs weren’t fazed by WSS’ stature coming into the match because they played plenty of tough 1A through 4A schools. St. Teresa has only one loss to a 1A school this season — Mount Pulaski.
“I was hoping for the early lead and it’s our M.O.," Dalton said. "We have come out and throttled some good teams, some 4A schools, in the first set. I can’t say enough about the schedule they put together for me. I looked at our schedule and I was scared of it, but the work these kids have put in and the fight — the sky is the limit for them.”
Dalton, who is in his first season as St. Teresa coach, said it was a big win and that his team is night and day different from when it started workouts this season.
“We put a game plan in yesterday and I couldn’t be more proud of how the girls followed it, stuck to it and believed in it,” Dalton said. “We started in the summer and we weren’t very good. We talked as a staff that we had to do a total culture rebuild. They didn’t know the effort it takes to win. They learned and the culture has changed.”
The Hatchets (32-7), who were the 1A runner-ups last season and finished in third place at the state tournament two years ago, ended the season two rounds earlier than they have in the past couple of years.
“Sometimes we do start down and this time we just dug a hole we couldn’t get out of," WSS coach Ronda Schlechte said. "Nerves were a huge factor. You don’t even know why because we’ve made it to state the past couple of years, but we totally froze
“Very disappointed in the season ending. These girls have had a long four-year run with a lot of accomplishments. You just hate to see it end like that. (St. Teresa) is a really strong team so it’s nothing to be disappointed about. I am just disappointed that it’s this early in the postseason.”
Juniors Abby Robinson and Lexie Huck, St. Teresa’s top two attackers this season, led the charge for the Bulldogs. Robinson had a big impact on the first set with five kills — three in the first eight points along with a block. She finished with 12 kills and eight digs. Huck, who also sets, came on strong in the second and third sets. She had 12 kills, 18 assists and six digs.
“Huck has been our best player all year and is a stat sheet filler," Dalton said. "She’s just a really smart volleyball player
“Robinson is probably the most skilled volleyball player I’ve had in a while.”
Grace Buxton had 12 digs and Valerie Nutakor had six kills for the Bulldogs.
After St. Teresa won the first set 25-13, the Bulldogs took an early lead in the second until WSS went on an 8-3 run to take a 21-18 lead.
St. Teresa came back to take a 23-22 lead and had it at match point at 24-23 when Megan Schlechte put down a kill and a 2-hit violation gave the Hatchets the lead at 25-24. Nutakor tied the set at 25 with a kill before a Schlechte kill and a Bulldog attacker error sent the match to a third set with a 27-25 WSS win.
WSS couldn’t carry over the success from the second set to the third, though, and fell behind 5-1.
“We played so well the second game," Schlechte said. "I wish we could’ve came out in the third set with the same attitude and go get that ball. You always hope and pray for one more set to see if we can do it. We had that opportunity and we didn’t take it. We just couldn’t get the passes where they needed to be, our hitters were not enforcing the balls and putting them down and finding those holes.”
Megan Schlechte led WSS with 21 kills, Mackenzi Tabbert had 29 assists and nine digs and Carson Cole had nine digs for WSS.