NORMAL — Fourteen Centennial volleyball athletes were in uniform for Saturday’s Class 3A IHSA third-place state tournament match.
By design, 14 players got in on the action as the Chargers swept Jacksonville 25-15, 25-19 to complete the best Centennial season in school history.
“One of my goals,” Centennial coach Stan Bergman said, “was to make sure everybody had an opportunity to get on the Redbird Arena floor. Every single one of them put forth the effort to get us to this point.”
Bergman’s regular nine-player rotation changed near the end of the first set when Jasmine Kyler was the first summoned from the bench.
Four teammates played for the first time at state in the decisive second set.
“I completely agree,” said Maddie Weldon, who had a match-high 15 assists. “I think it’s great. Not many people get to experience this. Everyone deserves this experience. Whenever we put a non-starter in, I’m never afraid.”
The newcomers helped finish the match in straight sets. Miaya Peacock had two of the Chargers’ 29 kills, including one on a back-row attack.
Kara Johnson, who had five kills and her school-record 282nd career ace, would have expected nothing less.
“Our practices are so competitive,” Johnson said. “We can throw anybody in there and have the same turnout. These girls are so talented, so good.”
Other Chargers besides Peacock who contributed in the final set, in their turn on the big stage, were Kelly Braghini, Ayla Dew and Jordin Hopkins.
“They were producing. Anyone will produce,” said Rachel Jones, whose hitting efficiency was .615. “Every single girl has heart.”
Had the Chargers (school-record 37-5 record) stumbled in the first set, Bergman said it might have been tougher to follow his prematch plan of playing everyone.
“My assistant coaches, at some point, probably would have brought me back to Earth,” Bergman said.
In the opening set, 20 of Centennial’s 25 points were ones the team earned with kills, blocks or service aces. That total rose to 21 of 25 points in the final set, meaning 82 percent of the overall points were due to good plays on the part of the Chargers.
“To finish that way, in the third-place match at state, is fantastic,” Bergman said.
The Chargers scored the first two points in the opening set — one on an ace by Lindsay Rogan — and never trailed until the second set when the Crimsons (30-10) jumped to an 8-4 lead.
Refocusing from a two-point, third-set semifinal loss to eventual state champion Wheaton St. Francis on Friday was a tough task for Centennial.
“It was difficult,” Jones said. “We were all disappointed, but there are only two winners (in 3A) and we wanted to be one of them.”
A combined block by Jones and Allie Shannon sent Centennial into the lead for good, 12-11, in the second set.
“These seniors have produced like that since I’ve known them,” Bergman said. “They’ve produced a winning attitude in all aspects, not just with the ‘W,’ but with their integrity and perseverance.”
Middle hitters Jones and Lauren Cloyd led Centennial with nine and seven kills, respectively. Cloyd had three of the team’s 10 blocks. Jones and Kelsey Olion totaled two apiece. Olion had an .800 hitting efficiency.
“We took the court with some self-control and discipline to make sure not to let last night affect our mental game today,” said Bergman, who has 398 career victories with the Chargers. “It’s a great feeling to finish with a win.”