CLINTON – Prince of Peace junior Anabel Blount took a couple leaps straight into the air. Paige Kuehl threw her hands towards the ceiling.
Even quiet freshman Sarah Moeller reacted with a grin when the final point fell on Monday night at the Joe O’Donnell Sports Center, solidifying a 3-1 Prince of Peace win over Easton Valley in the Class 1A Region 8 quarterfinals.
There was a sigh of relief from the blue and gold, because the win was never an easy one.
The Irish won 26-24, 25-22, 19-25, 25-18.
Set 4 was just the cap of a long night of volleyball in Clinton, and one that was anybody’s match at any time. In fact, Set 4 was the only one where it ever felt like the Irish had complete hold of the game with a scrappy Easton Valley team fighting back all night long.
They jumped out to a 9-3 lead to kick off the fourth set, and led by as much as 10 during the dominant win. But that was after dropping the third set the Easton Valley.
“I told them let’s have fun, let’s play our game,” head coach Stacie Kenneavy said. “We were playing with too much pressure and we had to let that go. We knew this was no guaranteed with with Easton Valley, and they came ready to play.”
Easton Valley came out in the first set with an impressive defensive line. Hits coming over the net, whether from the powerful arm of Anabel Blount or an offspeed hit from the hands of Paige Kuehl, the River Hawks were getting the ball up.
“I felt like we played out of system real well,” Easton Valley head coach Denise Larson said.
Plus, the Irish were playing shaky. They looked a bit uptight, especially some of the underclassmen.
Easton Valley took a four-point lead, and then the Irish rattled off four straight to tie it up. Easton Valley answered with another four consecutive points.
With the River Hawks holding a 23-20 lead, Irish sophomore Lilly Isenhour put one away cross-court from the right side. Two kill errors from the River Hawks tied it up.
“We know how scrappy Prince of Peace is and we were working those sidelines,” Larson said. “It just caused a few errors.”
A couple points later, Prince of Peace junior Grace Dehner closed out the first set with an ace.
The second set was a similar story. After Easton Valley jumped to a four point lead, the Irish climbed their way back. With big blocks from Macy Wilhelm, Liviah Johnson and RaeAnn Carlson clogging up the net, the Irish started throwing over some junk in order to find the floor.
“It was definitely about angles,” Irish middle blocker Sarah Moeller said. Moeller ended with four kills. “They had one big blocker in the middle and we had to find the angle to go around.”
The River Hawks weren’t done. With their defense still playing scrappy, consecutive kills from Macy Wilhelm and RaeAnn Carlson gave them some momentum and tied everything up 20-20 once again.
“I think we moved the sets around a lot,” Larson said. “I think we had a lot of shots to hit and everyone made some nice shots.”
After exchanging points, it was Prince of Peace’s Anabel Blount’s turn to take charge. Blount took a swing and garnered the point to put the Irish ahead and then went ahead and served two to the River Hawks that never made it back over to the Irish side, closing out Set 2 and giving the Irish to 2-0 lead.
“I think we had some up and down moments. We’re trying to minimize those and play consistently and I think we did for the most part. The ends of the sets we play better, and that’s where we really get it going and shine.”
The River Hawks jumped out to a lead in the third set and held on the entire time for their only win. Their attack was consistent and they found ways around the Irish block and defense.
“In that third game, they were hitting it where we weren’t,” Prince of Peace’s Coach Kenneavy said. “They figured out where our holes were. They were very well prepared for us.”
Anabel Blount and Lilly Isenhour led the offense for the Irish. Blount put away 18 kills in the four sets and Isenhour another 12. Five Irish athletes had double digit leads in the long-rallied game.
The River Hawks finish the year 10-20 with conference wins over the likes of Calamus-Wheatland, Marquette and Midland under their belt. The say goodbye to a handful of seniors: Sarah Driscoll, Delaney Bormann, Kaitlyn Lee, Kierra Messerich, Sydney Stoll, RaeAnn Carlson, Calli Beck, and Macy Wilhelm.
“I’ m really proud of how far they’ve come,” Coach Larson said. “They didn’t give up, they haven’t all season, they just don’t quit. It’s a simple error here or there, and they weren’t stupid errors.”
Prince of Peace (22-16) will travel for the Region 7 semifinals on Thursday, heading to Tri-Rivers Conference opponent and No. 7 ranked Lisbon. The Irish have faced the Lions twice this season, falling both times.
EARLVILLE, Ill. – Fulton didn’t waste any time getting their first postseason win.
The Steamers came out with a dominant 2-0 victory over Kirkland, Hiawatha to kick off the Earlville regional on Monday, winning 25-5, 25-6.
That run included 16 aces from Fulton – seven from Emily Schipper and four from Kylee Sweenie.
Schipper also led with 12 kills, while Megan Bailey added five.
The Steamers continue with regional play on Wednesday in Earlville.