Fred Kroner's prep volleyball insider
CRUNCH TIME FAVORS B-H
Bismarck-Henning posted thrilling last-set wins on consecutive nights, starting with a Monday match in Indiana (where prep teams play the best-of-five sets) and continuing Tuesday when the Blue Devils fought off three potential match-ending serves to rally from a 24-21 deficit against once-beaten Schlarman. "Many team members were responsible for our two great matches," coach Susan Kentner said. Courtney Reinken put a kill down in both matches to secure the wins. Autumn Rush was at the service line with her team behind 24-21 against Schlarman, and Kentner said "she served five straight serves for points with a hostile crowd in her ear." Among other key contributors, Kentner said, "Samantha Siddens had a fabulous defensive game and a breakout offensive game. Shelby Hines contributed greatly on defense and offense. Alexis Walsh and Jordan Arford had key blocks and hits, and the two setters were fabulous running the offense." The team now realizes it can come back when trailing. "We are battle worn, and we know how to chip away and get back into games," Kentner said. "It might not be the prettiest volleyball you have ever seen, but these kids seem to know how to get the job done."
After winning a three-set match Tuesday against Decatur Christian, Urbana University High could look ahead to its next match. On Thursday, the team had a return engagement against Decatur Christian, this time on the road. It wasn't supposed to be that way. "They had a function at their school on the date of our original game, and Tuesday was the only date we were both free," Uni High athletic director Sally Walker said. "Not ideal by any means, but we had to get it in." In its last eight matches, coach LIS POLLOCK's Uni team is 6-1-1 and successfully avenged the only loss (to Judah Christian) in that stretch.
Heritage's Hawks began the season with nine consecutive losses but have become one of the hottest area teams in recent weeks. On Oct. 1, the Hawks knocked off Little Okaw Valley Conference leader Tri-County in a three-set match. Injuries and the flu bug were factors in the team's slow start. The emergence of 6-foot-1 sophomore Mariah Coleman has been instrumental in a streak where Heritage has won eight of its last 14 matches. Coleman is averaging more than nine kills per match and has what is believed to be a school-record 202 kills. In addition, coach Brad Dalton said, "My setter is very dynamic, and my libero is solid." Heritage is also one of four Illinois schools that have extended Schlarman to a third set. Schlarman and Heritage will be part of a seven-team regional that Catlin will host. Heritage's turnaround started when ERIN WEINKE was shifted from setter to libero, which improved the passing. Then, KATIE RUTLEDGE became comfortable as the lone setter in a 5-1 offense. Another key was getting JENNA WYANT settled in as a left-side hitter and playing regularly following a bout with the flu during which the team lost three matches. She has responded with 106 kills. The best news for the future: The starting lineup has three sophomores and a freshman.
In a preseason poll of coaches in the Heart of Illinois Conference, Fisher was picked 10th in the 13-team league. With a balanced attack, the Bunnies (14-6, 5-2) are showing they were underrated. After 47 sets, Taylor Jean has 269 assists, and Marissa Williams has 111. The digs leader, OLIVIA DOWNS, has 286, followed by two teammates with identical totals: 131 for Rachel Kelley and Kailey Roberts. Roberts (149) and Kelley (129) are the leaders for kills, and LINDSEY WILLIAMS (57) and Jacy Cochran (55) have formed a potent blocking duo.
Two programs that endured hard times last fall still are looking for their first wins this season. Villa Grove was 0-25 last season and has gone winless in its first 21 matches this year. Georgetown-Ridge Farm was 0-22 a year ago and dropped its first 14 matches this year.
St. Thomas More has joined the 20-win club for the fifth year in a row. Three different coaches have been involved in that streak, including ERIKA TOCK the past two falls. ... Centennial could reach the 20-win mark for the 11th consecutive season under coach STAN BERGMAN in this weekend's Benet tournament. ... Bismarck-Henning's program is closing in on a fourth successive 20-win season. ... The Vermilion County tournament will start in eight days. Westville is the host. B-H is seeking a sixth straight county crown. ... DeLand-Weldon's BRIELLE JONES, who set the basketball state record for blocks in a season two years ago, is the blocking leader as a junior for this year's volleyball team. ... After a 2-7 start, Danville is 8-8 in its last 16 matches thanks to contributions from various players. McKENZIE HODGES leads in assists (318), BETHANY ZEIGLER leads in digs (148), followed closely by MORGAN KING (142), and SHAWNEIS JONES is first in kills (85).
St. Joseph-Ogden at St. Thomas More, Thursday. They've played once (in Paxton-Buckley-Loda's invitational), with the Spartans winning in two sets, but could meet now in three successive weeks. They could be opponents in another week at the Sangamon Valley Conference tournament and will be two of the top seeds for St. Thomas More's Class 2A regional.
NEWS-GAZETTE VOLLEYBALL TOP 10
1. Centennial (1) 18-2
NEXT: Today at Benet Invitational
2. St. Thomas More (2) 21-4
NEXT: Monday at Tri-Valley
3. Watseka (4) 21-4
NEXT: Saturday home vs. Georgetown-Ridge Farm
4. Bismarck-Henning (5) 14-2
NEXT: Tuesday home vs. Milford
5. Schlarman (3) 16-2
NEXT: Monday at Paxton-Buckley-Loda
6. St. Joseph-Ogden (6) 17-5
NEXT: Monday home vs. Champaign Central
7. Unity (7) 17-4
NEXT: Monday at Mount Zion tournament
8. Urbana (8) 11-4 NEXT: Tuesday at Centennial
9. Chrisman (10) 17-3
NEXT: Monday at Hutsonville
10. Champaign Central (9) 14-9 NEXT: Monday at St. Joseph-Ogden