DANVILLE – In the recent past, Urbana volleyball was known for losing more matches than it won. This year, the Tigers are headed in a different direction. What the team is losing now is its "can't-win" moniker.
Coach Colleen Madera's squad went above the .500 mark in Big 12 Conference play Tuesday, overpowering Danville 25-21, 25-18. The team's 11th win is the most by an Urbana volleyball team in the past decade.
The Tigers (3-2 Big 12) are hoping to not stop there. A school with 24 consecutive losing seasons in volleyball (and four straight 20-loss seasons) wants to improve its overall record above .500.
"We can do better," setter-hitter Amy Gray said.
Madera had a good feeling about her team before it played a match this year.
"This is my third year and it takes a year or two for a new coach to get her system in place," Madera said. "I can tell a remarkable difference. I've been waiting for this group for three years. We've been competitive with some pretty good teams."
Against Danville, the Tigers salvaged a win in the first game, which was tied 13 times. Remarkably, when Urbana led 10-9, six different Tigers had recorded kills.
"That shows how diverse we are," Gray said. "We have so many options, it keeps the blockers guessing. We can put anyone in and get a kill."
Gray (six kills) and Megan Roegge (five kills) led the attack for Urbana (11-13).
Madera recognized the team's overall strength early.
"One of our strongest things is hitting," said the coach, who focused preseason workouts on passing and serve-receive so the hitters would have ample opportunities to shine. Senior libero Megan Kirby, who had eight digs against the Vikings "is fabulous," Madera said.
"She took the role and ran with it," the coach added.
Molly Facer, who had a match-high 11 digs against Danville along with a team-high nine assists, joins Mariah Burgess as two key varsity additions.
"Our two sophomores (Facer and Burgess) are doing an amazing job," Gray said.
Danville coach Steve Houghton is not surprised by Urbana's newfound success.
"They have a lot of girls who play club in the offseason and that makes a difference," Houghton said. "They're a lot smoother."
Defensively, the Vikings coach was impressed by the play of Facer and Kirby.
"They got balls up and were able to run an offense on balls that we were lunging at and had to free ball (over the net)," he said.
As far back as last season, Gray sensed that Urbana's program had turned the corner.
"Last year, a lot of juniors were able to start and it was a good starting point," she said. "This year, we had a lot of returning starters and we have a deep bench."
Burgess had four aces and Gray three against the Vikings. BethAnn Swartz had seven blocks, and Gray was credited with four.
For Houghton, it was another frustrating setback.
"We have too many holes to fill and not enough pieces to do it with," he said. "We try to fix some things and it takes away from something else. I don't have players being consistent in what they do."
Swazie Cromwell led Danville with nine digs and six kills. Taryn Nohmer had nine assists.