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Rod Shilts/courtesy Parkland athletics

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A chance for Parkland to win a volleyball national championship begins Tuesday morning. Here are four items you need to know

about the Cobras (30-1) before they take on Terra State (15-2) at 11 a.m. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, via sports editor Matt Daniels:

Balanced approach

Halle Everett leads Parkland with 373 kills, but Hailey Sperling (283 kills), Arika Richardson (265), Jayden Sortor (192) and Katie Kaiser (119) are other strong options at the net. “The girls love it because then it’s very difficult for a team to camp out on just one hitter,” Parkland coach Cliff Hastings said. “We can really move the ball around and keep blockers guessing. We’ve had a number of matches this year where one person may have an off-game, but the other bombers step in and pick up the slack.”

Setting the table

Hastings is quick to rattle off rather impressive setters he’s had in his 12 seasons coaching Parkland. Like Centennial graduate Jaime Johnson. Or Kelly Lean. Or Rachel Verdun. Add Summerlyn Smith to the list. The 5-foot-9 sophomore from Mattoon leads Parkland with 913 assists, and her 11.27 assists per set lead the country. “Summer’s greatest asset on the court is that she’s well-rounded,” Hastings said. “She’s super-athletic, and she likes to mix up the offense and keep teams guessing as well.”

Local flair

St. Thomas More graduate Kayla Brandon and Unity graduate Katie Kaiser are two integral to the Cobras in 2021 after having limited roles in 2019. Kaiser, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter, is second on the team with 114 blocks. Brandon, a 5-8 defensive specialist, has a team-high 377 digs. “Both have worked extremely hard both on the court and in the weight room to gain those assets they need to translate to college success,” Hastings said. “and I’m really happy that both have found that this year.”

State pride

Parkland and Illinois Central are the top two seeds at the tournament, with the Cougars (20-1) claiming the top spot. Mainly because ICC handed Parkland its lone loss when the two teams played a five-set thriller on March 10 in East Peoria. “It was our first match of the season where we got pushed, and I was thankful for that,” Hastings said. “We have matured a lot since that time, and I think playing at an opponent’s home court is quite different than playing someone at a neutral site.”

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