Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS talks with St. Joseph-Ogden coach Abby McDonald as well as looks at 50 players and three tournaments to watch this volleyball season.
MAHOMET — Kayin Garner and her Mahomet-Seymour volleyball teammates couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
But it was true.
Last April, Stan Bergman announced he was departing St. Thomas More to coach Garner and her Bulldog buddies.
“We were so excited,” Garner said. “Someone looked at Twitter or something, and that’s where it got posted. Then we all just kind of texted each other and were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, no way. This is not happening.’
“We were really, really, really hoping he was going to get the job.”
After guiding the Sabers to consecutive Class 2A state tournament berths during a three-year run at STM, Bergman made a move to M-S for family reasons and replaced outgoing leader Stacey Buzicky.
Now, he’ll try to bring similar success to a Bulldogs squad that’s won just one regional championship this century. Bergman’s initial run kicks off Tuesday with a 7 p.m. home match versus Champaign Central.
“It’s been a nice transition,” Bergman said. “The girls have been working really hard, and I think that’s probably one of the bigger things that I just wanted to make sure I brought with me was keeping that standard.”
M-S graduated just three seniors — though one was current Kent State freshman outside hitter Savannah Matthews — and has seven upperclassmen on its 2019 roster.
Among them are outside hitter Lauren Minick (2.19 kills per set last year) and middle blocker Amber Yeakel, for whom Bergman has high hopes.
Bergman expressed excitement about the potential of more than just his elder stateswomen — girls like sophomore middle blocker Haylie Orton and junior hitters Ainsley Ranstead and Josie Hess.
“(Our success is) going to depend a lot on our passing,” Bergman said. “There’s just a really well-rounded group of kids.”
Garner and Yeakel said they’ve noticed a shift in the Bulldogs’ actions and purpose since Bergman rolled into town.
The sort of shift that previously pushed STM volleyball from annual regional contender to annual presence at Redbird Arena, the venue in Normal that hosts the state tournament on the campus of Illinois State University.
“The tempo that practices are run, intensity, is just something we never really had last season,” Yeakel said. “It’s a big change. And then there’s the accountability that he’s holding us to and we’re holding each other to.”
Accountability is a point that becomes more relevant when a Division I talent like Matthews is no longer in the fold.
“Just making sure everybody’s working hard every single point,” Garner said. “It’s like Stan says: Act like it’s championship point, and that’s what we’re acting like.”
Bergman, who guided Centennial to a third-place showing in 3A in 2012, isn’t making any bold proclamations about what could occur with M-S volleyball in his first go-round.
He recognizes the game plan he’s used in the past is not one that can be implemented at the snap of one’s fingers.
“I hope that we’re a headache for a lot of teams,” Bergman said. “In the grand scheme of things, I know that trying to change the culture and trying to change the dynamics in one season, in a month and a half, is going to be extremely difficult.”
That hasn’t stopped the Bulldogs from coming up with some ideas for what they’re hoping to experience when the regular season and, later, the playoffs commence.
“A few of them were quantitative, like 2.2 serve/receive average, things like that,” Yeakel said. “But some of them were we want to win a regional championship and we want to be conference champs, and our team dream was to make it to the sectional final.”