URBANA — Centennial’s volleyball team was given the regional championship plaque Thursday night at Oscar Adams Gymnasium, but only after the Chargers earned it on the court.
Coach Stan Bergman’s squad staved off two serves for set point in the opening stanza and then secured the sweep behind a strong blocking presence in the finale, wrapping up a 28-26, 25-14 win.
“It was so intense but so much fun,” said Lauren Cloyd, who had two of her match-high three blocks in the final set. “The emotions were high. That momentum carried us through the whole second game.”
The Chargers (33-4) moved within one victory of tying the single-season school record.
“This was the first step of many goals we have,” Cloyd said. “People are expecting us to do great things, and we were confident going in, not nervous.”
Centennial trailed in the opening set from the time Sirena Woo’s ace gave the Bulldogs a 4-3 advantage until a kill by Allie Shannon put the Chargers back in front 21-20.
“Our defense was above average, and our competitiveness was above average,” said Kelsey Olion, one of Centennial’s seven senior starters. “Coach said he was proud of us for staying competitive after being down and for coming back stronger in the second set.”
The first set ended on a kill by senior Kara Johnson, who landed a match-high nine. She was one of seven Chargers with kills in the match.
Bergman was thankful to get the come-from-behind first-set triumph.
“Mahomet came out with a lot of energy, played good defense and put us on the ropes,” Bergman said. “They found a way to get the ball on our side.
“It shows the integrity of where our girls are that they finished the first set with good energy. Mahomet was not going away, and we needed something to propel us into the second set.”
The first time M-S served to win the first set, a kill by Rachel Jones pulled Centennial within 24-23. The second time, a kill by Libby Cocagne created a 26-26 tie.
Cloyd finished with eight kills. Jones had five and Shannon four to go with two blocks. Shannon scored the first point in each set. Cocagne served two aces.
“The difference,” M-S coach Ron Hoppe said, “was they have offensive weapons all over the court, and we have Elise (Dahlke). I think we’re better defensively and on serve-receive, but we didn’t have the offensive weapons to go with it.”
Parkland College recruit Dahlke led M-S (21-13) with five kills. Tori Veldman had four kills. In addition to serving aces in each set, Woo had a match-high 21 digs. Mason Moore had 13 assists.
“I’m disappointed they lost,” first-year coach Hoppe said, “but my girls gave everything they had. We fought a lot harder and made it a lot closer than most people thought we would.
“They (Chargers) played much better in Game 2, but we didn’t stop fighting.”
Centennial will continue its postseason quest Tuesday at Normal University High, facing Bartonville Limestone (26-8-1) in the 7 p.m. sectional semifinal match.
“We have bigger goals than trying to obtain a regional title,” Bergman said. “We know that there are a lot of great teams that want to go to the next level. We just want to be as competitive as we can on every point.”
Centennial’s most recent sectional title in volleyball occurred when the current senior class members were freshmen.
“There’s always pressure,” Olion said, “but we try to put that in the back of our mind and play.”
The Chargers’ volleyball win means Cloyd won’t report for basketball practice Monday afternoon, when teams statewide start preseason drills.
“I’m ready for basketball,” Cloyd said, “but I’m not ready for this season to be done, either.”