CHAMPAIGN — Thirty-win seasons have been a staple for Centennial (31-3) for five consecutive years, but conference championships in volleyball have been few and far between.
The Chargers reached that pinnacle Tuesday by winning their home finale against Bloomington, which ended the Purple Raiders' bid for a share of the Big 12 title and catapulted coach Stan Bergman's team into a first-place deadlock with Normal Community.
"It's a great feeling," Bergman said.
The last time — and only other time — the Chargers had a share of the Big 12 crown was in 1996, when they tied Normal West for first. In the past 11 years, every Big 12 volleyball title was won or shared by a Bloomington-Normal school.
Each time Centennial has lost a match this season, it regrouped in its next outing to prevent an extended losing streak.
"The bounceback is integrity," Bergman said. "They know there were things they should have controlled better, so they focus on the controllable and move forward.
"They are going to make mistakes, yet they are learning about life and how to overcome disappointment in a loss, but they learn from it. Sports reveal character, and they are improving, growing and getting better every day."
The Chargers concluded their regular season Wednesday and have a six-day layoff until the regional tourney starts next week for 3A schools.
The break arrives at a good time, Bergman said.
"It is better than the past," he said. "I like the timing."
The varsity is not the only strong team at Centennial. The junior varsity squad is 29-1, and the freshmen are 28-2.
The last non-Bloomington-Normal school to win the Big 12 outright was Champaign Central (1999). The Maroons also won in 1994 and 1992.
B-H continues two streaks
BISMARCK — For the fifth consecutive year, Bismarck-Henning (23-1) finished with at least a share of the Vermilion Valley Conference crown. The league success follows up on the school's eighth straight Vermilion County tournament title.
"The conference is harder to get because you're playing more schools, and recently with Schlarman's and Chrisman's competitive teams, the conference has been extremely difficult to get," B-H coach Susan Kentner said. "A team has to be really focused and maintain solid play throughout to get the conference title.
"Illinois volleyball is going through the same thing, competitive team after competitive team, and they have to remain solid and be the team that makes the least mistakes. That is what we're trying to do with our team. Every other school plays so well against us, so it is doubly hard."
Nine of 12 varsity players have appeared in all 24 matches. Bailey Bryant leads in kills and blocks, Morgan Gerbsch leads in digs, and Lauren McKenzie leads in assists and aces.
In the eight years of the VVC, Bismarck-Henning has won or shared six conferences titles. Schlarman and Westville each have been a part of two championships.
Eagles win ECIC crown
DeLAND — DeLand-Weldon, which will host the East Central Illinois Conference tournament today and Saturday, made it through regular season league play without a loss. A school that could have tied the Eagles for first, Uni High, is the one D-W defeated Tuesday in the regular season finale in Urbana.
"It was a surprise to win all seven (league) matches," D-W coach Jay Schatz said. "We did not expect to go undefeated."
In the ECIC's 10-year history, only Decatur Lutheran (which had won the past seven league crowns) and D-W have finished in first place. The Eagles were also triumphant in 2002 and 2003.
Outside hitter Libby Neathery and libero Brittany Roberts are the lone senior starters. Others who play regularly for the Eagles are junior outside hitter Summer Berry, junior middle hitter Mikayla Jones, junior setter Brooke Kimball, sophomore setter Rowan Crozier and sophomore outside hitter Alexis Dick.
The Illineks had beaten D-W previously in a two-set match. D-W (14-10) carries a six-match winning streak into the conference tournament. Only once in the past 20 years has a D-W team won more than 15 matches. The 2003 squad ended 18-9.
St. Thomas More, despite a 14-13 record, went undefeated in the Sangamon Valley to capture the regular season conference title outright for the third time in five years. The Sabers also earned a share of the 2008 crown.
Tri-County reached the 30-win mark for the first year since Oakland and Kansas formed their sports cooperative and clinched an unbeaten Little Okaw Valley Conference season Thursday. This is the eighth straight year the Titans have won or shared the LOVC title. Their other outright titles were in 2010, 2008, 2007, 2005 and 2004.
Decatur St. Teresa wrapped up an unbeaten season in Okaw Valley Conference action Thursday, and Bloomington Central Catholic, which ended Normal U-High's Corn Belt winning streak at 62 matches earlier this month, prevented the Pioneers from garnering a fifth straight outright league title. In Thursday's rematch, the Saints prevailed in three sets.
N-G Top 10
TEAM (previous) W-L COMMENT
1. Centennial (1) 31-3 Next: Class 3A regional, Tuesday at Mahomet-Seymour, opponent TBA
2. Bismarck-H. (2) 23-1 Next: Class 2A regional, Tuesday at Catlin, opponent TBA
3. Central (3) 22-13 Next: Class 3A regional, Tuesday at Mahomet-Seymour, vs. M-S
4. Tri-County (4) 30-3 Next: Class 1A regional, Tuesday at Neoga, opponent TBA
5. St. Joseph-O. (5) 25-3 Next: Class 2A regional, Tuesday at St. Thomas More, opponent TBA
6. Mahomet-S. (6) 19-10 Next: Class 3A regional, Tuesday at Mahomet-Seymour, vs. Central
7. Watseka (7) 27-3 Next: Class 2A regional, Tuesday at Hoopeston Area, opponent TBA
8. Blue Ridge (8) 21-6 Next: Class 1A regional, Tuesday at Farmer City vs. Decatur Christian
9. St. Thomas More (NR) 14-13 Next: Class 2A regional, Tuesday at St. Thomas More, opponent TBA
10. PBL (9) 17-8 Next: Class 2A regional, Tuesday at Hoopeston Area, opponent TBA