CHAMPAIGN — When St. Thomas More and Centennial met on the volleyball court one season ago, the Sabers trumped the Chargers in two sets.
While it went down as a competitive nonconference match — 25-21, 26-24 — it didn’t go the distance.
Centennial altered that script Tuesday.
And even though STM walked out of the Chargers’ gym with a 23-25, 25-23, 25-23 comeback victory, both sides acknowledged gains made via a tit-for-tat bout.
“When it came down to it, we really executed when we needed to execute,” first-year Sabers coach Kelly McClure said, “especially late in the match when we needed to.”
“I’m extremely pleased with where we are,” Centennial boss Taylor Swords countered. “STM brought a stronger team to us, and we were able to compete at a higher level than we did last year.”
Even if some things have changed for STM (2-0) — its head coach and a couple of starters the chief examples — other aspects of the Sabers remain the same.
Reigning News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year Allie Trame banked 13 kills with no attack errors, and Anna McClure matched the offensive output. Caroline Kerr contributed 29 assists as well.
None of that should come as a surprise to those around STM’s program.
Colleen Hege offers a bit of difference, however. The Sabers sophomore stepped in for now-graduated libero Haley Elam and already looks comfortable with filling those shoes, lining up alongside fellow youngsters Anna McClure, Kerr and ninth-grade hitter Mallory Monahan.
“I just love (Hege’s) defensive prowess,” Kelly McClure said. “She makes plays in our gym that we all just shake our heads (at). ... We’ve got three sophomores and a freshman on the court, so it’s fun to watch them grow and emerge.”
The Chargers (1-1) felt success Tuesday whenever juniors Leah Luchinski (21 assists) and Maggie Pitcher (10 kills) had their respective crafts working at full speed.
Luchinski in particular is someone both Swords and Kelly McClure — the latter through local club volleyball — recognize is integral to Centennial’s outcomes in 2019.
“She is our leader,” Swords said. “She sees the court very well — better than a lot of players do. She is able to communicate with our players and get them up and ready. She’s number one to have on the floor at all times.”
These two foes actually could meet again in the Class 3A postseason, with STM in that mix courtesy consecutive 2A state tournament appearances.
Even if that wasn’t the case, Swords felt the Sabers allowed the Chargers to see exactly where they need to improve before entering the rigors of Big 12 Conference action.
“Their block was a lot stronger in the second and third sets than they were in the first set, and we didn’t adjust enough to accommodate that,” Swords said. “We didn’t change enough to come back to them.”