Earlier this season, Marshall’s volleyball team defeated Belleville 3-1 to get a hot start to conference play. Belleville has only improved since then. The Wildcats upset Division 3’s No. 6 team, Waterloo, in mid September.
Things were tough for Marshall volleyball even before the first whistle of its matchup with Belleville Tuesday, Sept. 21. The Cardinals were without freshman outside hitter Kiersten Hoel, one of the team’s leaders in kills this season, and the entire team was battling illness. This kept senior Abby Ward on the bench for the entire first set and for bouts of the second and third. In the end, Belleville’s size was too much for Marshall as they won 25-12, 25-17, 25-23.
“They outlasted us,” Marshall head coach Christina Schmitz said. “We outlasted them in the first go-around and they clearly were the better team tonight and deserved to win.”
Ward’s absence was abundantly clear in that first set. Belleville’s middle blocker, 6’ senior Callie Smith, made life impossible for the Marshall attack. She sent back countless kill attempts and even made some of her own.
Smith’s hot start to the game was aided by the brain fog hovering around Marshall’s players. The Cardinals committed lifts, doubles, and sent kill attempts sailing well out of bounds. The Wildcats built a quick 9-1 lead, and things looked bleak for the Marshall side.
A kill from sophomore Emily Brodbeck gave the Cardinals some momentum, and they would score five unanswered points to narrow the deficit to 6-9, but the brain fog returned. The Cardinals continued to shoot themselves in the foot as Belleville’s lead increased. Marshall managed to keep it close until about mid-set, trailing 9-14, but Belleville put its foot down. The Wildcats erupted for a 11-3 run, fueled by Smith’s outstanding play at the net. Belleville won the first set handily, 25-12.
The Cardinals were thankful to see that brain fog drift over to Belleville’s side as the second set began. Smith was up to her usual dominant plays, but the rest of her team was letting her down. Belleville sent continual serves and kill attempts into the net. Now, Marshall still earned these points. The Cardinals, specifically their back row, stepped up huge. It seemed like senior Erin Virgil was everywhere on the court, digging out balls and keeping plays alive. Marshall’s stout defensive effort opened the door for Belleville to make mistakes.
“Our defense was really good,” Marshall head coach Christina Schmitz said. “Every time we called a timeout, we told our offense that someone had to step up.”
Two straight aces from Ward closed the gap in this one to a 9-10 Marshall deficit. Unfortunately, mental mistakes would take the Cardinals out of contention. They sent a few serves and kill attempts into the net, and that was all the momentum the Wildcats needed. It was only fitting that Smith sealed the Belleville victory with a block followed by a kill to secure the 25-17 win.
Undeterred by the unfortunate start to the evening, the Cardinals were determined to finish strong. Marshall came out hot with two quick kills from Virgil. Junior Cortney Checky served up an ace as well as Marshall kept pace with the scoring from Belleville. The Cardinals even took a 10-9 lead thanks to a block and an ace from sophomore Kate Luzenski.
As soon as Marshall managed that momentum, Belleville stole it right back. The Wildcats persevered to win a long rally which, based on body language alone, was a huge blow for the Cardinals. Brodbeck did her best to keep Marshall in the game, piling up kills and blocks. The Cardinals made a great run at it, scoring four consecutive points to take a late 21-10 lead. In the end, the bigger front row on Belleville’s side was the deciding factor. Smith, coupled with fellow senior Alyssa Caskey, had a kill each to bring the Wildcats back from the deficit and secure the win, 25-23.
With the loss, Marshall drops to 2-3 in Capitol South conference play while Belleville is now an even 3-3.