Braghini rights for Chargers
CHAMPAIGN – Centennial's volleyball team is unbeaten, but it's not perfect.
The Chargers overcame uncharacteristic hitting errors Tuesday night and subdued Champaign rival Central 25-20, 25-23 at Combes Gymnasium for their 16th consecutive win.
"I never envisioned anything like this," said Centennial junior Alexis Braghini, whose nine kills included the final two points after the Maroons forged a 23-23 deadlock in Game 2. "This has exceeded my expectations."
Twelve of Central's 43 points in the match were courtesy of errors by various Centennial hitters.
"We've been doing well," Braghini said. "With that many errors, it gets unnerving."
Central coach Becky Good saw enough to be impressed with the opponent but also to remain hopeful when a rematch occurs.
"Centennial is good, but they're definitely beatable," she said. "What they bring is some of that psychological stuff and that goes a long way. We have to be mentally tough."
The Maroons opened an 11-7 lead in Game 1 but could not contain the 6-foot-2 Braghini at crucial junctures. A kill by Braghini broke the final tie in the opening set, and her blocks on the next two plays sent Centennial into a 19-16 lead.
Braghini is one of many Chargers who played offseason club ball. The commitment to volleyball, she said, "helps us get better so when we come back to our high schools, we're better than ever."
It also creates an additional challenge for coaches, such as Centennial's Stan Bergman.
"The experience is great and what they've learned is great, but the biggest thing is the chemistry and to get everyone on the same page," Bergman said, "the passers with the setters and the setters with the hitters.
"When you have them coming back from different teams, that's been one of the biggest struggles."
Centennial opened an 18-11 cushion in Game 2 but couldn't finish off the scrappy Maroons without a struggle.
"We've had some good competition, but this, by far, has been the best so far," Braghini said.
Bergman liked Braghini's assertiveness when the Chargers needed a lift.
"She has the potential to be a dominant player and tonight she proved the point of where she's at now," he said.
The Chargers held a 27-13 edge in kills, but many of the balls that hit the floor did so on second and third attempts.
"We have one of the better defensive teams in the area," said Good, whose squad was led by a match-high 17 digs from Shelby Strang and 10 from Kathleen Rowland.
Ellen Deal had nine of the Maroons' kills. Strang had three.
"Normally, we're pretty balanced, but it was Deal's night tonight," Good said.
Bergman was pleased with his squad's defensive resolve.
"The whole defensive crew did a fantastic job," he said. "The only issue was that we couldn't seem to dig No. 22 (Deal)."
The Chargers had four athletes with at least four kills. Cori Harris, a left-handed sophomore who is adept at hitting from either side of the court, landed six kills. Danielle Banks and Ashley Cheney had four apiece.
Cheney and Beckie Kane led Centennial with 10 digs each. Melanie Moore had 13 assists.
"We're making strides," Bergman said. "Sixteen and oh is a nice number to reflect on, but we're not as concerned with the record as we are getting ready for the postseason."
The Chargers have two more matches, including a home contest Thursday against Decatur Eisenhower, before their showdown with nationally ranked Bloomington on Sept. 27 on the Purple Raiders' court.