Chart toppers: State volleyball storylines, courtesy Fred Kroner
Lindsay Rogan and Allie Shannon take charge when Centennial volleyball matches are over.
The two seniors gather their teammates for a prayer after first asking the opposing team if it would like to join.
It’s an image that came to light almost a year ago (Nov. 12, 2011) when Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown orchestrated a pregame prayer with football players from Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
“We wanted our team to be part of something like that,” Shannon said. “We wanted to share our faith, and that it’s more than volleyball to us.
“Every team we’ve asked, I think they’ve been surprised — but in a good way — and it has made people realize we care about more than winning. We’re playing for something much greater than all of us.”
Centennial will have two more opportunities for postmatch prayer gatherings this weekend. The Class 3A Chargers are in the state semifinals at Illinois State. The team plays at 4 p.m. Friday against Wheaton St. Francis.
“We join hands, and I pray out loud,” Rogan said. “That’s my favorite part of the game.”
Centennial coach Stan Bergman can — and does — listen in, but he has no role in organizing the prayer.
“It’s us who asks him, and he joins us,” Rogan said.
“I’m just a bystander,” Bergman said.
Rogan’s words are spontaneous and come from the heart.
“I thank God for our commitment to each other and to our team,” Rogan said. “It’s a way that we appreciate each other, and it helps us realize how much we love each other.”
The camaraderie within the team has been strong all season, and Shannon said “our team has become like a family and being able to pray has brought us closer.”
Bergman said as the Centennial coach and a public official, he is required to remain neutral on the issue.
“I have to take the Fifth,” he said.
However, as someone who has been active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, he said, “from a personal standpoint, I feel deep in my heart we have to give praise to the One who has given us creation.”
For Rogan and Shannon, their feelings are sincere, not spur of the moment. Both have gone on mission trips, and the experiences were life-changing.
“What I’ve taken away is that we take what we have for granted,” Rogan said. “Clothes. Shoes. I have a great life here.”
Her past trips have included visits to the Dominican Republic and to St. Louis.
“I was shocked by what I saw, and I fell in love with serving people,” she said.
Shannon said her experiences “made me thankful for the things I have and helped me realize how lucky I was.”
Last year’s Tri-County sectional finalists in volleyball have been transformed into this year’s Class 1A state semifinalists.
It wasn’t like the Titans needed a major overhaul to reach the next level.
“We were two points away last year,” coach Drew Robertson said, “and we actually had match point against Mount Pulaski (in the sectional championship loss).”
What was required was a committed effort by the returnees.
“Everybody has improved with the extra practice,” senior setter Amber Meyer said, “and we keep improving.”
Tri-County enters Friday’s 10:30 a.m. state semifinal match against Rockford Keith Country Day with a 32-match winning streak. The last 25 of those wins have been secured in two-set sweeps.
“We can win games in a lot of ways,” Robertson said. “Our serving and serve-receive is pretty good as is our blocking, defense and hitting. We don’t have a weakness other than if a team is bigger or stronger than us.”
A Tri-County-best 35-2 record was achieved by playing a challenging schedule. The regular season schedule included Pana, which won a sectional crown, and eventual regional champions such as Arthur-Lovington, Benton, Casey-Westfield, Heritage and Stewardson-Strasburg.
“The girls put in lots of work in the offseason and came in pretty focused,” Robertson said. “They knew this could be a special season.”
One area that improved the most is with Heidi Dague and Abby Smith as the middle hitters.
“There have been times our middles have carried us,” Robertson said. “We didn’t have that much last year. We have about 100 more kills out of the middles than we did a year ago. They are much better at putting the ball away.”
None of the Titans have been to state — even as spectators at Illinois State — but Robertson coached the 2008 Toledo Cumberland team to third place.
“That gives me a little feel for the process you go through (at state),” he said.
Another familiar face will be part of the weekend entourage. Former Kansas coach Brenda Coffey — who directed the school to state trophies four times between 1992 and 1998 — will make the trip with Tri-County, which is an all-sport co-op between Oakland and Kansas.
“She has watched us play and has had the Kansas girls in P.E. since first grade,” Robertson said. “She has coached some of the girls (such as Smith) in club ball.”
He hopes Coffey will be a calming presence.
“It’s hard to predict how 16- and 17-year-olds will react,” Robertson said. “I’ll talk to them about not looking in the rafters, but the lights are bright and it’s a different feeling there.”