On Fridays, prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner covers the area volleyball scene like it's nobody's business:
Maroon shows toughness
When Central's Maroons played in the Centennial Tournament earlier this month, senior setter Mia McDonald had a bruised eye, a sprained ankle and wasn't feeling well. "I told her I was going to sit her," coach Evan Hook said, "and she said, 'No, the show must go on.' "
McDonald played, and Central placed fourth.
"She is one of the toughest players I have ever coached," Hook said. "Mia is a natural-born leader. In practice, she leads a lot of drills, and all the players respect her."
Central's 16-5 team, Hook said, has been "focusing on teamwork." Other veterans who have been instrumental in the team's start are middle hitter Jaelyn Westfield and outside hitter Kailyn Demith.
"Jaelyn is hitting and blocking better than I've seen in the last two years," Hook said. "Kailyn is an all-around player who has helped us greatly."
The key, Central's second-year head coach said, is a one-for-all attitude. "The strength is our teamwork," Hook said. "Regardless if you are on the court, we all have important roles on the team. Our bench helps fire us up and contributes greatly. Our goal is to support each other as a team."
Eagles continue to soar
DeLand-Weldon doesn't have an abundance of players (there's seven on varsity), but they don't just show up on the court when volleyball season starts. "I think playing in the summer league at the DISC in Decatur has helped us prepare for this season," said D-W coach Jay Schatz, who also coaches the middle school program and has a freshman class that won back-to-back regionals the past two years.
"The consistency in the program is also a factor. Since we don't have a lot of subs, the players get plenty of playing time. They have to be able to pass, set, hit and serve consistently. So far we have played well in all four categories."
Two freshmen are starting, setter Emily Boley and libero Holly Reynolds. D-W, 13-6 this year, gained confidence during its summer league schedule, winning its final seven matches.
"We expected to have a team that could compete in most of our matches," Schatz said. Rowan Crozier, an All-East Central Illinois Conference pick last year, played for the Bloomington-based Illini Elite club, and Schatz said she "improved 100 percent." Mikayla Jones, Summer Berry, Brooke Kimball and Alexis Dick are other contributors.
"Over the years, the players have learned to stick together when things aren't going well, and they also get along well," Schatz said. "With only 50 students, we know that we're going to be in for tough matches playing larger schools."
The real story
ST. JOSEPH — The Spartans finished second in Saturday's Paxton-Buckley-Loda Invitational and had two selections listed on the all-tournament team. The team was represented by players wearing uniform No. 1 and No. 5. The roster sheet lists No. 1 as Abby Bagby and No. 5 as Shelby Simmons.
Some time after the rosters were released to the media, Bagby and Kenzie James (No. 4) switched uniforms. It wouldn't have been a problem except that all-tournament picks were released by number, and Bagby was credited with all-tournament recognition that was intended for James.
To further complicate the issue, when The News-Gazette compiled its list of honorable mention choices for Athlete of the Week on Wednesday, Bagby was given mention because Simmons was listed two weeks earlier.
Tri-County remains a force
In the first eight years since Oakland and Kansas joined forces to form Tri-County, the volleyball program has averaged 25.6 wins a year. The current group is 17-2 with 14 straight wins (13 in two-set sweeps). It helps to have a strong nucleus of seniors, including Amber, Ami and Autumn Meyer, because "it's another year of experience doing what we do," Tri-County coach Drew Robertson said. What the team does is take risks.
"We hit well from the back row," said Robertson, whose team averages 2.5 kills per set from there, "and this is our second year swing blocking."
The main reasons for success, however, can be traced to participation in the sport.
"We have very dedicated players," Robertson said. "Five played for Prime Time (Champaign-Urbana club team), and three played for TKO (Charleston-based club). We get our girls (together) in fifth grade. They play club early, too."
Amber and Autumn Meyer played for TKO, as did junior Abby Smith. Senior Kyla Skinner, junior Lizzy Barnard and sophomores Heidi Dague, Alex Hudson and Kayla McKinney were all part of the Prime Time program.
Tri-County is the defending champion in the Little Okaw Valley Conference tournament, which will be Oct. 1-4 at Bement.
Prairie Central is new to the field at Watseka's invitational and will challenge the host Warriors, Danville and Peotone for team supremacy Saturday. ... Arcola's invitational also is set for Saturday.
Our updated ranking of area teams:
TEAM (previous) RECORD
1. Centennial (1) 16-2
Next: Saturday at Homewood-Flossmoor Invitational
2. Tri-County (2) 17-2
Next: Saturday at Arcola Invitational
3. Champaign Central (4) 16-5
Next: Monday, home vs. Charleston
4. Clinton (NR) 18-4
Next: Tuesday, home vs. Meridian
5. St. Joseph-Ogden (3) 17-3
Next: Monday at Westville
6. St. Thomas More (6) 10-7
Next: Saturday at LeRoy
7. Watseka (7) 16-2
Next: Saturday at Watseka Invitational
8. Schlarman (8) 9-1
Next: Tuesday at Westville
9. PBL (5) 15-3
Next: Thursday, home vs. St. Thomas More
10. Blue Ridge (10) 16-7
Next: Monday at LeRoy