Vikings surge forward
DANVILLE — Three weeks ago, Danville's Vikings were struggling with a 5-10 record. With wins in eight of its last 13 matches, first-year coach Cathy Wenthe's team has a 13-15 record. Michaleen Forman and Shawneis Jones have emerged as consistent threats at the net. Forman has 196 kills, and Jones, who is getting interest from Southeast Missouri State and Illinois-Springfield, has 132. "She has made huge gains," Wenthe said. "Michaleen and Shawneis have stepped up to play hard all the time. They are both competitive."
Forman is a prominent member of the Danville softball team, as is setter Jordan Ogle (440 assists). Multi-sport standout Alexis Jimson-Miller leads in digs (273), followed by All-Area softball player Morgan King (193).
The group, Wenthe said, is "just learning how to play beginning volleyball. As a team, they've learned how to compete."
With one more win, Danville will have its second-most wins in any volleyball season. The record for most wins (19) was set in 2005.
Schedule benefits Sages
MONTICELLO — The early-season schedule was forboding for Monticello, starting with Heyworth's defending Class 1A state champions in the first match. Subsequent matches were followed by St. Joseph-Ogden (21-2), Champaign Central (16-10) and Clinton (18-13).
Monticello is a combined 0-5 against that group but 14-4 against everyone else.
"We had a couple of three-game losses at the beginning of the season that we learned a lot from," coach Annie Camacho said. "We have definitely turned things around in the second part of our season."
Elise Pontious and Jaimey Watrous, who share the setting and right-side hitting duties, have been two of the leaders. "Elise is emerging as a go-to hitter," Camacho said. "Jaimey has really improved her serve (team-high 66 aces) and has had some huge runs that won a couple of games for us."
Libero Kaitlyn Hunt is on pace to shatter the single-season digs record, and Camacho said Hunt is "not afraid to hit the floor."
Monticello has a 6-1 record in Okaw Valley Conference matches.
"Overall, things are going very well," said Camacho, whose team was 10-15 a year ago. "The girls are playing well and are determined to win."
Grace Blickhan, Katherine Eickmeier, Shannon Finet, Katie Lienhart and Samantha Terstriep are other squad members who've made noteworthy contributions as the season has progressed.
Eagles' lineup finally intact
RANTOUL — A return to full strength helped Rantoul win back-to-back matches Monday and Tuesday, improving its record to 8-15. Coach Jay Bennett said he also has "toyed with the rotation, and I think that has helped."
Seniors Tina Aguirre and Heather Nigh are on the court for all six rotations and, Bennett said, "they seem to be excelling at both hitting and defense."
Hannah Wascher has shown the ability to be dominant at the net.
"She has become a force at the net through her blocking," Bennett said, "and can truly change the dynamics of the game. When our team blocks well, we seem to be a different ballclub."
Bennett said he also has witnessed a "taking- charge" mentality from setter Patrece McLain.
Clinton progression continues
CLINTON — Lack of height hasn't been a hindrance for Clinton, which is closing in on its best season in six years.
"We're not a tall team, which means we have to work very, very hard on our defense," coach Tracey Huls Mathis said. "We take pride in how hard we work to get digs each night."
Offensively, the Maroons have made adjustments as well.
"We have to be smart with our offensive choices, and I feel we are getting better about that," Huls Mathis said.
Libero Shanae Ritter and setter Morgan Hickman, who runs a 5-1 offense, have been two of the catalysts. Hickman is handling her role well.
"She does a nice job of looking across the net and seeing what the other team's defense is doing, which is a hard skill for a setter," the coach said. "She has done a nice job of choosing effective sets to make it difficult for other teams to get a strong block against us."
Ritter stands out for preventing hard shots from hitting the floor.
"Her talent and contribution often goes unnoticed because of her position, but she is a crucial part to our team and is having an outstanding senior season," Huls Mathis said.
Bailey Walker is an offensive threat from the right-side hitting position.
Blue Ridge hosted a regional last year, losing in the championship match to a Heyworth team that went on to win the Class 1A state championship. There won't be a rematch this year.
Heyworth was reassigned to Class 2A.
Blue Ridge again hosts a regional. This year, the field will be strengthened by the presence of Mount Pulaski, a school that has won regional titles 26 of the last 27 years and has played in a state championship match eight times since 1988.
The IHSA will announce postseason pairings for volleyball this afternoon.
Bement blocker makes bid
BEMENT — Junior Sabrina Hinton is closing in on Bement's single-season record for blocks. She has 95 entering Tuesday's match at Villa Grove. The school mark was set by Laura Felt, who had 107 in 2004. The Bulldogs have five regular season matches remaining before regional play begins.
N-G Top 10
TEAM (previous) W-L COMMENT
1. Centennial (1) 20-1 Next: Saturday at Wilmington tourney
2. St. Joseph-O. (2) 21-2 Next: Monday home vs. Central
3. Watseka (4) 24-2 Next: Tuesday at PBL
4. Bismarck-H. (5) 16-1 Next: Tuesday at Hoopeston Area
5. Blue Ridge (3) 19-4 Next: Monday at Fisher
6. Tri-County (6) 26-3 Next: Tuesday vs. Okaw Valley
7. Central (7) 16-10 Next: Monday at St. Joseph-Ogden
8. Mahomet-S. (8) 16-6 Next: Saturday at C-G Invitational
9. Clinton (9) 18-13 Next: Tuesday home vs. Unity
10. Heritage (NR) 19-9 Next: Tuesday home vs. A-H