MURPHYSBORO — In a battle for first place in the SIRR Ohio Division Murphysboro held off Harrisburg in three sets, 25-19, 19-25, 25-9, to secure at least a share of the regular season volleyball conference title for the fifth straight year Tuesday at Memorial Gymnasium.
"That’s the first time Harrisburg has taken us to three games, but we knew it was going to be a dog fight, so I wasn’t surprised at all," said Murphysboro coach Mike Layne. "They are a tough team to deal with. I was disappointed we lost the second set, but I was proud of how they responded by playing as good as we can play at times in the third set. I thought we served really well today keeping them on their heels."
Murphysboro (19-7) improved to 8-1 in the conference standings while Harrisburg (18-7) fell to 6-2. The Red Devils have Benton on the road Thursday remaining on its conference schedule while the Bulldogs have Herrin and Massac County left to play.
"It’s really special to lead the conference," Layne said. "I just get them here and they lace up the shoes. This is probably the toughest the conference has ever been since the early 2000’s."
The Red Devils were led by sophomore middle hitter Lillie Schaldemose with 17 kills. Senior middle hitter Mallorie Brown had seven and a half kills with senior setter Drew Stokes and junior outside hitter Rachel Finders finishing with seven each.
"We were ready for this match having practiced Sunday and Monday," Schaldemose said. "Massac and Harrisburg are our two competitors in this conference and we’ve now beat Harrisburg three times and split with Massac County."
The Bulldogs were led by senior right side hitter Matty Hawkins with 13 and a half kills and senior middle hitter Bryleigh Buchanan with eight.
After Harrisburg scored the first point of the game on a bad shot by Murphysboro, the Red Devils jumped out to an 18-7 lead. Murphysboro extended its lead to 24-12, but the Bulldogs held off match point seven times behind two kills by Hawkins and three bad shots by the Red Devils, but freshman middle hitter Kylee Kerrens put the set away with a kill from the left side.
"Harrisburg at the beginning of the first set wasn’t ready to play I think, but then they started picking up their speed at the end, but we held them off," Schaldemose said. "We then had to move to the other end and I think that brought us down."
After the break, Harrisburg maintained its momentum jumping out to a 6-0 lead on four kills by Hawkins and two aces by Devin Butler. The Bulldogs extended their lead to 12-3 before the Red Devils rallied with a 10-2 run thanks to four errors by the Bulldogs and an ace by Schaldemose to cut the lead to 14-13.
However, a serve out of bounds by Schaldemose snapped the run allowing Harrisburg to maintain the lead. Murphysboro trailed 19-17 when Buchanan took over scoring four of the last six Bulldog points to even the match at one set each with a 25-19 win.
Harrisburg continued to ride its momentum into the third set. With the score tied at 4-4 Schaldemose gave the Red Devils the lead for good on a kill from the left side.
"The wheels kind of came off at that point," said Harrisburg coach Heather Cox. "I was telling the team Mike Layne does a fantastic job with his kids. He instills a lot of confidence and my kids just aren’t there yet when it comes to the confidence. However, just three years ago we were at 6-16 and now to be at 18-7 shows we’ve gotten better, but mentally we’ve still lagging to realize we can play with Murphy."
Designated server Gabby Brown stepped behind the service line to begin her fifth service of the match. An out-of-bounds shot by Buchanan got her off to a good start. Schaldemose kept it going with another kill from the left side and Buchanan followed with a shot over the end line.
"I just knew I had to serve good to keep it going for our rally points," Brown said. "I always start with my routine of six bounces before I serve. Even though they won the second set we weren’t worried at all. We just kept playing our game."
Leading 8-4, the Red Devils went into high gear with Schaldemose scoring five of the next eight points to take a commanding 16-4 lead. Schaldemose had nine kills in the third set after being held to two in the second.