GLEN DALE - No matter what the sport or the the level, there is no way of getting around the fact that experience can make a difference in a big game.
Monday night, John Marshall used its maturity to dominate arch-rival Wheeling Park in a West Virginia Class AAA Section One quarterfinal volleyball match.
Seniors Jenna Stephens and Alexis Montes controlled the net and the Monarchs trailed only twice in rolling to a three-game, 25-15, 25-19, 25-22 victory against the youthful Patriots at John Marshall High School.
The victory sends Coach Stacy Shive's JM squad into the sectional semifinals Wednesday at 5 p.m. against top-seeded Morgantown. The Mohigans own a pair of victories against the Monarchs already this season.
Meanwhile, Monday night's victory gave John Marshall the season series against Wheeling Park. Coach Leslie Waechter's squad pulled out a five-game victory against the Monarchs at the Palace but lost in four games in Glen Dale in their other appearance there.
"This game meant so much to these girls," Shive said. "They didn't have school (Monday), so they came in early and had a light practice and it is one of the best practices we have had all season.
"But it also made me a little nervous, because normally when we practice well it leads to poor play in matches for us. But not (Monday), these girls were 100 percent determined to beat Wheeling Park."
The Monarchs got things rolling early, trailing only once in the opener before cruising to a comfortable 25-15 victory. The hosts actually led 7-3 early before a point and four consecutive aces from junior southpaw Lindsay Bise put Wheeling Park ahead 8-7.
However, Stephens, Montes and the rest of the Monarchs took over from there, scoring seven of the next eight points to take control. John Marshall closed it out with Caitlyn Malloy serving and a Montes block capping the victory.
Shive's girls came out strong again in Game 2 with Montes and Emily Winters holding serve as the Monarchs built a quick 9-2 advantage. But with sophomore Carly Greer coming alive at the net Wheeling Park chipped away and had the deficit down to just two points later.
Winters, however, closed things out with an ace for the victory in a game they never trailed in.
Waechter's young group was not about to give up as the Patriots led only one time at 1-0, but managed to stay close the entire game. John Marshall was never able to build more than a five-point advantage and Park was as close as 14-13 midway through.
But fittingly, it was a Stephens kill, her final volleyball point on her home court, that sealed the deal and sent the Monarchs into the next round of play.
"We have been playing so hard at the net," Shive added. "But we have also worked on getting the lead and maintaining it, which we did a good job of. It has been stressful, but that has been a real weakness for us."
Waechter, meanwhile, was proud of her girls, but also looking to the future.
"We have one senior, two juniors and a whole bunch of sophomores," she said. "It has been a rough season for us, but we are really looking forward to the future with these great kids.
"Our biggest problem (Monday) was what we like to call stupid, silly mistakes, and we have got to learn to not make them any more. Our service receive was not good and that is usually something we do well at.
"We are not very tall, but our passing skills are something we work hard at. Unfortunately, we weren't able to do much of anything right against John Marshall."
Stephens finished with 14 kills and Montes 11 for the winners, while Winters contributed five aces and Sara Tennant had six digs. Greer paced the Patriots with five kills and three blocks while senior Jalena Marshall went out with 13 assists.
As for Morgantown, Shive knows it will be a tough task against a good team.
"We lost twice to them already and they are a very consistent team," Shive said. "Normally anything that goes over the net towards them is coming back towards you.
"Jenna (Stephens) and Alexis (Montes) are our power players, and they didn't shut them down when we played, but they are able to send back some beautiful hits and that doesn't happen often."