Numerous local Class 3A volleyball clubs are experiencing a winning atmosphere these days, and preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS chatted with coaches from three such teams:
Bulldogs along for a fun ride
MAHOMET — The one phrase that repeatedly pops up in Stan Bergman’s comments about his first-ever Mahomet-Seymour volleyball team is “roller coaster.”
And that’s even as the Bulldogs boasted a 16-6 record entering this past weekend at the two-day Riverton Classic.
But that comes with operating under Bergman, who guided St. Thomas More to consecutive state tournament appearances prior to taking over at M-S.
“It’s definitely good to see that they’re taking some of the instruction. I just wish they would do it a little bit quicker,” Bergman said. “But I do know it’s my first year with them, and, again, they’re picking it up and they’re doing well with it. I’m not disappointed with how things are going right now.”
The primary reason Bergman compares the Bulldogs’ present state to a roller coaster ride is inconsistent results.
For example, M-S fell to St. Joseph-Ogden early in the campaign before topping the Spartans a couple weeks later.
Then there were two-set losses to Mt. Zion and Effingham, which preceded a two-set triumph versus Charleston — a team that already had defeated Effingham and Mt. Zion.
One thing that can only be positive is M-S’s team titles in Centennial’s Charger Invitational and the program’s own Bulldog Invitational last month.
“If I recall, the senior class, I’m not sure they’ve won a tournament maybe since junior high,” Bergman said. “So I was really excited they were able to work hard enough to get a couple under their belt.”
At the offensive forefront for M-S is junior Ainsley Ranstead, who’s averaging well over four kills per set.
“Her passing has gotten a lot better,” Bergman said, “and I’m seeing her confidence build even more. ... I’ve got her playing in all six positions, but I’ve got the confidence in her that I know that she can do it.”
Other girls who have impressed Bergman include “super athletic” right-side hitter Makayla Rosenbery, utility athlete Josie Hess and sophomore middle blocker Haylie Orton.
With the Class 3A postseason rapidly approaching, most of the Bulldogs’ remaining tune-ups come in Apollo Conference play. M-S carries a 6-2 ledger in such matches with four bouts remaining.
“I was actually pleasantly surprised with how competitive the conference is,” Bergman said. “I’m pretty happy with where we stand at this point.”
Tigers roaring behind senior class
URBANA — Erika Mennig acknowledges her Urbana volleyball club “started off a little slow” in 2019.
Like 0-5 slow, with the Central Illinois Traveling Tournament treating the Tigers poorly in early September.
Fast forward one month and Mennig’s crew rests at 10-11, having won six of its last seven matches as well as four in a row.
“We’re just trying to get our bearings and figure out who we are,” Mennig said. “The girls were pleasantly surprised that ... they proved to themselves they can win against quality opponents.”
In particular, Mennig was referencing a two-set victory against Bloomington to open October. She admitted not being quite sure of the last time the Tigers defeated the Purple Raiders in volleyball.
Mennig’s roster doesn’t have an abundance of senior competitors during this campaign, but it’s those 12th-graders — Raevyn Russell, Kynzee Boastick and Mackenzie Wingler — who receive a large share of Mennig’s praise.
“Going through the ranks, our seniors ... started with a really big class as freshmen and have dwindled down to just a few of them who have been here all four years,” Mennig said. “On one hand, that’s tough. On the other hand, I’m really proud of those girls who have been here, who have stuck with it, who have grown so much over the years.”
Russell, also integral to the Urbana softball and girls’ basketball teams, averages 3.36 kills per volleyball set and has offered a steady presence on the hardwood throughout her prep tenure.
“She started on varsity as a freshman,” Mennig said. “She’s really done a great job this year, especially, of maintaining her hard work throughout those ups and downs. She’s still swinging hard. She’s still going after the ball. She’s still trying to make the play.”
Boastick, a state-placing hurdler on the track, has made the transition from No. 2 to No. 1 setter for the Tigers. Junior Tia Radanavong, after spending a year away from the sport, brings a “workhorse” mentality to the group.
And Russell’s younger sister, sophomore hitter Rylie, also is drawing Mennig’s attention for positive reasons.
What all of this equates to in the Class 3A playoffs is unclear, but Mennig knows exactly what she wants from her athletes the rest of the way — no matter how long that lasts.
“The teams that we are the better of the two, we need to be the ones that are winning decisively,” Mennig said. “... But then the teams that we might be more even with or maybe even a little bit under, we’re still competitive.”
Eagles thriving with graduate in charge
RANTOUL — When Lakimya Wade was approached by Rantoul athletic director Travis Flesner about accepting a coaching role within the Eagles’ volleyball squad, Wade didn’t hesitate to reach for the top spot.
“When it’s something you love, near and dear, you need to revamp something,” the 2010 Rantoul graduate said. “So why not?”
Considering the results thus far, why not indeed.
The Eagles, even with their last two matches ending in defeat, carry a 10-7 record in Wade’s first season at the helm.
It’s a far cry from the previous year’s 8-25 mark and has Wade excited for current and future prospects.
“I can’t ask for a better team,” Wade said. “The girls have been really receptive, and they’ve pushed through all the drills and ideas that I have.”
In Wade’s mind, her biggest obstacle in Year 1 of coaching has been stepping out of a “sister” role she believes some of her players view her in.
The reason: Wade’s actual sister, senior Mye’Joi Williams, is part of the program.
That element aside, athletes such as Williams, Tanaya Young, Lexi Sherrick, Delaney Fullencamp and Bella Shields — all typically in Wade’s starting lineup — are giving Wade optimism for Illini Prairie Conference and Class 3A postseason action.
“Every girl has been committed, and they work overtime,” Wade said. “They’ll ask me can they stay and hit, can they stay and serve, and I love that mentality.”