PINCKNEYVILLE — Given the circumstances, it might have been expected that the Murphysboro volleyball team would get off to a slow start.
Judging from Tuesday night’s marquee non-conference matchup at Pinckneyville, the Red Devils might be hitting their stride.
Playing outstanding defense and taking advantage of a spate of Panther mistakes, Murphysboro left Perry County with a 26-24, 25-18 win.
“We played really well and we were really scrappy,” said Red Devils setter Ashley Jarrett. “We played as a team instead of as individuals.”
Jarrett, a 6-0 senior, finished with a dozen assists, smartly distributing net opportunities among Lillie Schaldemose, Shelby Cook and Maggie Williams. She’s one of five players back from last year’s team, which won the Class 3A Marion Regional in veteran coach Mike Layne’s final season on the job.
Layne resigned in the spring after winning 517 career matches at the school and was replaced by long-time JV coach Apryl Gordon. Murphysboro went only 3-4 in the season’s first week, including a 2-3 mark at the SIRR Tournament that included a 26-24, 25-22 loss to Pinckneyville.
Ten days later, the script flipped on the Panthers’ court.
“Murphy fought extremely hard and played through everything we hit at them,” said Pinckneyville coach Cathy Kohnen, “but we just made way too many errors. It’s just really hard to win a volleyball game when the scoreboard reveals how many errors you have.”
The Panthers (7-5) gifted the Red Devils (5-4) no fewer than 26 points off malfeasances of some variety, including a whopping 14 hitting errors. They were a little bit like the hard-throwing softball pitcher who can’t keep the riser in the strike zone.
Part of that, to be sure, was the Murphysboro defense. Players like Jarrett, Cook, libero Malorie Gill and Lily Rudolph all came up with key plays that extended or won points.
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“Our defense was everywhere,” Jarrett said. “We’ve always been taught to be a scrappy team.”
After falling behind 3-0 right off the bat as Pinckneyville senior setter Elaine Shaneyfelt bagged a pair of aces, the Red Devils stormed back to establish an 11-6 advantage as Jarrett teed up Williams for a kill. The Panthers tied it at 18 on a net violation, but Cook delivered a kill and a solo block to end a 6-2 spurt that pushed Murphysboro to set point.
Pinckneyville repelled four straight set points to even the game at 24 on a Shaneyfelt push shot, but Williams logged consecutive kills to wrap up the game.
The dramatic conclusion spilled over into the second game’s start, the Red Devils going on an 8-1 tear that gave them a six-point lead and forced a quick timeout from Kohnen.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to start the second game with a lot of fire after you’ve lost the first set,” Kohnen said. “But that’s what the sport is. You have to play every point for what it is, and we just fell short tonight.”
Even when the Panthers made a predictable run, tying it up at 12 on a Kassidy Lee kill, the Red Devils had all the answers. Whitney Martin’s kill initiated a run of four straight points that put the visitors ahead for good.
Seven of Murphysboro’s final eight points were the result of Pinckneyville mistakes, including three straight hitting errors that closed out the match.
Williams paced the balanced Red Devils’ attack with seven kills and Schaldemose chipped in five. Jarrett said they transferred the momentum of Thursday night’s emotional 2-1 win over Jackson County rival Carbondale into this match.
“We had so much energy against Carbondale that we were just trying to keep it up for this game,” she said. “And it worked out.”