St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball wins regional title on Halloween

In high school volleyball it is pretty hard to beat a good team twice in a row.

The trick for St. Joseph-Ogden was to win the Oakwood regional title on Thursday and do it again against Monticello, who they played a week earlier in the last match of the Illini Prairie Conference regular season. The Spartans got the treat they were looking for and the first of a few more to come in the postseason after clipping the Sages in two sets, 25-17, 25-14.

SJO setter Emily Bigger
Setter Emily Bigger passes the ball during St. Joseph-Ogden's first set against Monticello at the Oakwood Regional on Thursday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
The hard work the team has put in showed throughout the season showed in SJO's seemingly stress free, effortless play. One of things that senior Lacey Kaiser says the team had to do reach their currently level of play was talk more.

"Our communication has improved since the beginning," she said. "It was hard for a lot us because not many of us are super outgoing."

Kaiser led the team with three aces from the service line. She padded her stats with three kills and a trio of digs against the Sages.

"I believe in my teammates," she said. "If we get down, I know we can pull through and get back to win."

The Spartans were up 19-9 in the first set, but didn't close it out right away. Monticello dug in their heals and won eight of the next 13 points before SJO shut the door.

"I think we have definitely improved on capitalizing on certain points, and pushing whenever we should," said fellow senior Rylee Stahl. "We've worked a lot on siding out on the next point and not giving teams consecutive points in a row."

The Sages took a 4-1 lead in the second set before the Spartans reestablished control of the momentum going up 7-5 behind the pile driving swings of Katelyn Berry, Payton Vallee and sophomore Kennedi Burnett.

Berry finished the contest with a team-high nine kills and five digs. Vallee, a junior and outside hitter, contributed four kills and Burnett, who played strong defensively, had four kills and 10 digs.

Thursday's victory would not have been possible if it wasn't for the passing accuracy of Emily Bigger who took credit for 23 assists. She also scored a rare kill and contributed seven of the team's 45 digs.

"I think this win means a lot, but we are not super, super, super excited about it because it is just regionals," said Stahl, who like the rest of team, has her sights set on the king size of postseason candy, a state trophy. "We have a lot more to accomplish this season."

While teammate Lacey Kaiser (on the left) looks on while teammate Emily Bigger holds the team's new regional plaque for Payton Vallee to kiss. After beating Monticello 2-0, the Spartans advance in the IHSA volleyball postseason to face Seneca on Monday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

The Spartans advance to Monday's sectional semifinal against Seneca at Watseka.

The Lady Irish defeated Manteno in both sets 25-22 to win the Peotone Regional. On Tuesday, they dropped the first set of their semifinal to Manteno 20-25 and came back to take the last two, 25-21, 25-21. The two teams are scheduled to start at 6pm.

It will be back to work analyzing the Lady Irish for SJO, but in the mean time, Kaiser and the Spartans will savor the new regional hardware.

"It feels awesome," Kaiser said. "We knew we wanted to get this."