NORMAL — It’s an almost-automatic assumption.
Volleyball teams that place at state and have nine seniors on the roster are believed to be nearing the rebuilding phase of their program.
Not so with Centennial’s Chargers, who set the school’s single-season record for wins Saturday by overpowering Jacksonville 25-15, 25-19 in the Class 3A IHSA third-place match at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
“They definitely have the potential to go far next year,” Chargers senior setter Maddie Weldon said, “and they will continue to get better during the club season.”
The expectations are based on the performance of Centennial’s lower-level teams this season as well as the contributions of six underclassmen on the 37-5 varsity unit. The junior varsity compiled a 34-1 record, and the freshmen finished 27-6-1.
“A lot of this year’s JV were capable of playing on the varsity,” Bradley-bound Rachel Jones said. “They will be good next year.”
One reason for the across-the-board success, head coach Stan Bergman said, is his staff of coaches.
“These coaches work so hard with the girls and do a great job,” Bergman said. “Alan (Newman) has done a lot of preparation, looking at teams we were facing and getting information on them.
“We could not have done this without these coaches.”
Judd VanAntwerp is the JV coach, and John Noe directs the freshmen. All three assistants are on the bench for the varsity matches, offering input.
Staff changes upcoming
At least one new coach will be on the Chargers’ staff next fall.
VanAntwerp, a senior who will graduate from Illinois in May with a degree in broadcasting, announced he will join UI coach Kevin Hambly’s staff as a volunteer assistant in the spring.
“Kevin has been my idol, and I am so honored to have this opportunity,” said VanAntwerp, who will turn 22 in December. “I’ve always wanted to coach in college, but I figured the route would be longer and much more stressful.”
Newman and Noe soon will be student teaching, and their availability to help next fall has not been determined.
Bergman, meanwhile, has a 15-day break until volleyball practice starts at Jefferson Middle School, where he is also the head coach.
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On Friday, Centennial took Wheaton St. Francis to three sets before dropping a two-point decision in the 3A semifinal tiebreaker. On Saturday, St. Francis captured its ninth state championship under coach Peg Kopec, sweeping Richmond-Burton in two sets.
“That proves to us we were truly one of the best teams in the state,” Centennial senior Allie Shannon said. “It makes us feel more proud and is reassuring to know we were one of the best.
“We did a lot of great things this season and competed with the best.”
While compiling the 37-5 record, the Chargers defeated eventual state champions from Arkansas and Illinois as well as a third-place finisher from Kentucky and the fourth-place team in Illinois.
“All five of our losses were in three sets,” Bergman said. “Any team we faced, we had the opportunity to beat. They were a strong group and played exceptionally well.”
When the members of the current senior class finished their middle school careers at Jefferson — with Bergman as the coach — they won their final match, a victory in the state championship. As high school seniors, the group once again concluded their season with a win.
“This is a lot bigger deal than middle school,” senior Kara Johnson said. “It’s sad to know this is our last game together, but we will stay really good friends and support each other, no matter where we are.”
The group of Charger medalists included 15 squad members, the 14 who played against Jacksonville and senior Paulina Nottingham, who was ineligible for undisclosed reasons. She practiced with the team throughout the postseason but did not play after the regional.
She was on the bench at state in her warmup.
Nottingham finished second on the team in assists (367) and was third in aces (43).