Losing a key hitter like Morgan Thacker forced St. Anne’s-Belfield to tweak its lineup just a couple of weeks ago. In the past that would have been a huge problem for a Saints squad that hasn’t been deep in recent years.
But with a larger variety of solid, versatile players on the roster, the Saints have been able to overcome Thacker’s absence and even triumph after going down a game in an LIS quarterfinal matchup Tuesday.
“We’ve know that we’ve had incredible depth and the strongest offense that we’ve ever had,” said Stacey Gearhart. “But, what was new for us this year was the girls getting used to us saying ‘tonight it’s this lineup’, ‘tonight it’s this lineup’ and then believe they can play any position. We know that they have the skills and the last two weeks we’ve had t put it into practice.”
The Saints showed they believed against Collegiate, bouncing back from the 25-16 loss in game one with three straight victories over the Cougars. STAB got into a groove and held off a scrappy Collegiate squad to grab wins of 25-21, 25-20 and 25-18 and wrap up a 3-1 victory in the League of Independent Schools quarterfinals.
Collegiate caught the Saints off guard in the opening game, with setter Maura Simpson keying the attack. Simpson unleashed an array of quick dumps and short sets that put the Saints on their heels.
“That caught us off guard,” Gearhart said. “We played them once but it was a while ago so we weren’t quite sure what was going to happen. They actually didn’t tip against us much the first time, so that was new.”
But STAB’s depth helped the Saints rally with Rae Long and Allie Nicholson dominating the attack at the net. Nicholson checked in with 10 kills while Nicholson unleashed 13, several of which exploded off the junior hitter’s hand. Nicholson also managed well on the back line with an 18-dig night that sparked the Saints’ defensive effort. Long was rock solid from the service line with five aces.
In the meantime, Trent Holden and Margaret Giles stood tall on the block, as both came up with four stuffs each. Holden played big-time defense on the backline too with 16 digs. Giles played middle because Collegiate usually brings a strong attack in the middle and Giles, who’s also a rock solid setter, rose to the occasion.
“Fortunately we have a really deep team,” Gearhart
The victory set the stage for the Saints to go toe-to-toe with LIS No. 1 seed Trinity on the road Wednesday in the LIS semifinals. STAB is trying to find a way to wedge into the state tournament and a victory over Trinity would be a huge help for the Saints’ playoff hopes.