NORMAL — Centennial’s volleyball team put itself in position for success long before Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal match began.
The Chargers faced a challenging schedule, one where the team was not only competitive but also victorious.
In the early-September Crossroads Classic at Effingham, the same Jonesboro, Ark., squad (Valley View) that the Chargers swept in a two-set finale is the same one that won Arkansas’ Class 4A state title.
The same Lexington, Ky., squad (Henry Clay) that Centennial swept in pool play at Effingham was the same team that placed third in Kentucky’s one-class state tournament.
And the storied Wheaton St. Francis team that Centennial rallied to beat in three sets at the Crossroads is the same one that will play for the Class 3A state championship Saturday at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
St. Francis won the rematch with the Chargers in a Friday thriller, 21-25, 25-20, 26-24, relegating Centennial into a third-place match Saturday at 4 o’clock against Jacksonville.
In every loss this season, coach Stan Bergman’s team has won a set. Only one time, including Friday, in 41 matches did the Chargers trail the match entering the second set.
The Chargers will try to add to their school-record win total (36) Saturday against a Jacksonville team they swept in two sets last year in the sectional semifinals.
Before any current Centennial players were born, the Chargers and Crimsons were members of the same (now-defunct) Capitol Conference.
Look who’s watching
Centennial’s cheering section included Chargers basketball players Michael Finke and Luke Vaughn. They didn’t have to skip practice to support the volleyball team, but they did have to be willing to endure a long day.
“Basketball practice is at 7:30 p.m.,” Finke said.
Also close by was the Chargers’ girls’ basketball coach, Susan Thomas. Her team opens the regular season in five days.
Much more volleyball
Centennial’s volleyball season will end with Saturday’s 4 p.m. third-place match, but for eight of nine seniors, there’s many more years to be associated with the sport.
Six squad members had committed to a college prior to the season.
A seventh player, Allie Shannon, committed during the year (to Coastal Georgia), and an eighth player (Paulina Nottingham) will visit West Virginia Wesleyan on Monday.
That leaves Libby Cocagne — who had offers — but hopes to enroll at the University of Illinois and concentrate on academics.
The team’s preseason commitments were Lauren Cloyd (Rutgers), Kara Johnson (Illinois-Chicago), Rachel Jones (Bradley), Kelsey Olion (Missouri Western), Lindsay Rogan (Indiana Wesleyan) and Maddie Weldon (Parkland College).
One reason the Chargers were so composed on the court Friday is a reminder Bergman provided.
“When we talked, I said that eight out of nine of them will have to play under these conditions,” Bergman said. “That might have eased their anxiety. I didn’t feel there was any nervousness.”
Beating the best?
Class 1A finalist Mount Pulaski lost eight regular season matches. The first was against Champaign Central.
Playing a difficult schedule is one reason veteran coach Donna Dulle’s squad will take home its 12th state tournament trophy Saturday (and 10th for either first or second). Of the Hilltoppers’ 35 regular season matches, 13 were against 2A foes, seven were against 3A schools and eight were against 4A opponents.
“If you can go against the best, it’s big,” Dulle said. “You’re used to being in that kind of arena and, hopefully, when you get to state you can say, ‘We’ve been there and seen that.’ ”
Mount Pulaski’s principal is former Urbana wrestling coach Terry Morgan.
Until Friday, Tri-County had not been beaten by a Class 1A squad. Its other losses were to Class 3A Breese Central (in three sets) and to Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, which recently won the Indiana 3A state championship.