On Fridays, prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner covers the area volleyball scene like it’s nobody’s business:
Tourney to honor fallen star
CHAMPAIGN — St. Thomas More will hold the first Morgan Buerkett Memorial Volleyball Tournament on Oct. 13.
The six-school round-robin event will be an annual fundraiser with all proceeds going to the Morgan Lee Buerkett Scholarship Fund. A former All-Area first-teamer, Buerkett, and her parents, Jon and Dana, died in a July 24, 2011, plane crash near Rantoul. A volleyball player at the University of Chicago, Morgan Buerkett graduated from STM in 2010.
Admission will be $5 for adults and $3 for students. The first match is scheduled to start at 8 a.m.
Besides the Sabers, other schools in the inaugural event are Cissna Park, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Iroquois West, Mahomet-Seymour and Unity. Each school will play five matches.
Veteran Maroons excel
CLINTON — After a 4-4 start to the season, Clinton reeled off 14 consecutive wins before suffering a three-set loss to Meridian last week. Six seniors are among the Maroons’ leaders. “They have played together for so many years at such a high level that they have the highest expectations for one another,” Clinton coach Tracey Huls Mathis said. “They are great leaders and work to set an example. They really have an awesome chemistry on the court and expect a lot from each other.”
Setter Morgan Hickman is one of the senior veterans. Outside hitters Megan Creager and Bailey Walker are seniors, as are defensive specialists Taelor Eads and Ally Lawson along with middle hitter Mariah Monkman.
“The strength of our team is how much we depend on one another and how we work to give credit where credit is due,” Mathis said. “The team as a whole is striving to maintain focus on the skills we work on each night at practice. We are trying to have valuable practices that carry over into our games.”
This year’s seniors are the second in school history to compile three consecutive 20-win seasons. Clinton first enjoyed three 20-win seasons in a row in 2002, 2003 and 2004 under coach Katie Maubach.
Cornjerkers make progress
HOOPESTON — Toni Duval didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for her head coaching debut. She was hired as the Hoopeston Area head coach less than a month before practice began in August.
Without the benefit of a full summer to work with her prospective players, the former St. Joseph-Ogden athlete — and volleyball assistant the previous four years — jumped into her venture.
“From the beginning, I have tried to stress on the girls that we need to not forget about the past seasons and the records that came from them, but to learn from them,” Duval said. “They came in with attitudes that are willing to accept change. I told them that I come from a competitive family so I wouldn’t accept attitudes, giving up or not being determined to get the job done.”
Her early-season lineup has undergone a transformation.
“We have changed lineups, rotations, defense and attitudes,” Duval said. “We are continuing to get better as the season progresses.”
Senior setter Devin McFadden has been one of the steadying influences.
“Devin has made a great impact on this team not only as a captain but also as a player,” Duval said. “She hustles all over the court and has been a very coachable player. Our team has been through a lot of battles, but none of them are battles that we can’t handle.”
After winning twice in their first 15 matches, the Cornjerkers are 2-3 in their last five, including Tuesday’s two-set sweep against Oakwood.
The tournament trail
The IHSA released seeds Thursday for regional tournaments, which will start in 10 days. In Class 1A, area teams have been assigned to six sites.
The top seeds are Heritage (at Decatur Lutheran), Woodland (at Flanagan), Tri-County (at Hutsonville), Blue Ridge (at LeRoy), Cissna Park (at Milford) and Windsor (at Okaw Valley).
In 2A, area teams have been sent to five sites.
The teams to beat at those locations are Bismarck-Henning (at Bismarck-Henning), St. Teresa (at Central A&M), Clinton (at Maroa-Forsyth), Paxton-Buckley-Loda (at Unity) and Watseka (at Watseka).
In 3A, Centennial is the No. 1 seed in the six-school regional at Urbana, followed by Central, Mahomet-Seymour, Urbana, Monticello and Rantoul. In 4A, Normal Community is the top seed at Joliet West.
With one week left in the regular season, three area teams already have won at least three more matches than they did a year ago. The most improved are Bement, coached by Carissa Benner (four wins), Shiloh, coached by Casey Long (four wins), and Prairie Central, coached by Kim Hasty (three wins). ... Chrisman’s junior varsity team is unbeaten for the season.
Our updated ranking of area teams:
TEAM (previous) RECORD
1. Centennial (1) 20-2
Next: Saturday at Bishop McNamara Tournament
2. Tri-County (2) 26-2
Next: Tuesday at Windsor
3. Central (3) 20-6
Next: Monday, home vs. St. Joseph-Ogden
4. Clinton (4) 23-8
Next: Tuesday at Unity
5. St. Joseph-Ogden (5) 19-4
Next: Monday at Champaign Central
6. Watseka (6) 24-2
Next: Tuesday, home vs. Paxton-Buckley-Loda
7. Schlarman (7) 14-1
Next: Monday, home vs. Paxton-Buckley-Loda
8. PBL (8) 17-3
Next: Monday at Schlarman
9. Arthur-L. (10) 19-4
Next: Tuesday at Villa Grove
10. Sullivan (9) 16-7
Next: Tuesday, home vs. Argenta-Oreana