DANVILLE — Schlarman’s second appearance in the volleyball Sweet 16 in seven years was secured Tuesday night in a two-set sweep.
The Hilltoppers handled LeRoy 25-18, 25-22 in a Class 1A sectional semifinal match at Paul C. Shebby Gymnasium.
Schlarman’s 28th win moves the school within one victory of tying the school record. The triumph was anything but easy, though it might not have seemed that way when the Hilltoppers held a 10-0 lead in the first set and Panthers coach M.C. Deming had already called her final timeout.
Schlarman coach Heidi Crane wasn’t deceived by the quick start.
“All it takes is one point to turn it around,” Crane said.
The remainder of the contest was played exactly even. LeRoy and Schlarman matched points, each scoring 40 more.
“They made us work,” Crane said.
“It was a struggle,” junior Jordan Marganski said. “We had to keep pushing. LeRoy’s a good program.”
The Panthers, peaking at tournament time, had wins in seven of their eight previous matches, including the first volleyball regional championship in school history.
“For the first time here (at sectionals), we competed and, at times, played the best volleyball we’ve played,” Deming said. “They have great athletes and middles that put up a strong block, but we left with our heads held high.”
With 15 players in its program — eight of whom are ninth-graders — the Hilltoppers have to be creative in practice. The varsity starters aren’t challenged by backups ready to take their positions.
“You have to set goals in practice,” Marganski said. “Limit your errors. Push hard and make sure to challenge yourselves.
“Sometimes, there’s only certain ways to score points. It has to be on a clean kill or a clean block.”
Crane said she occasionally puts Marganski and either Laura Gross or Janelle Marion on opposite sides of the net for practice “so they can hit or block against each other.”
For the most part, she said, her players know what they need to do.
“It’s all the girls,” she said. “Their drive, pushing themselves. This is a great group. I’ve seen the time they’ve put into it.”
Freshman Shelby Mascari was at the service line for the entire 10-point run that started the match.
“She has done that several times (including in last week’s regional),” Crane said. “That’s why she’s our first server. She can hit the zones we’re calling.”
Marganski led Schlarman with 13 assists, six blocks and five kills. Gross had seven kills, five blocks and five assists. Ella Black landed three aces.
In the opening set, Gross asserted herself early. When the score was 10-0, Gross had three kills and two blocks for points.
“I knew we had the talent,” Marganski said. “We just had to believe in ourselves.”
LeRoy (16-14-2) took its only leads in the second set, 4-3, 9-8 and 10-8. The Panthers were within a 23-22 count when a kill by Gross put Schlarman a point away from advancing.
“We struggled with passing at times, and when we did, they attacked and took advantage,” Deming said.
AshLynn Cowles led LeRoy with seven kills. Elise Morgan had four kills. Kaylin Vallero had three aces.
Schlarman (28-5) faces Woodland (27-8) in Thursday’s 7 p.m. title match.