It had everything to do with this thing
called the "postseason." That IHSA fall volleyball classic where
everybody starts over and anyone has a chance to beat anyone else
and everyone can go home early or survive to play another night.
Saturday night, the top-seeded Railers
and the 10th-seeded Decatur MacArthur Generals played a hard-fought
match -- the Railers survived to play another night; the Generals
went home for good. That's what the seed meeting predicted would
happen -- but it was still spooky.
From the moment I walked into the
LCHS gym Saturday night, I could tell that the atmosphere had
switched from the regular season to postseason. The pre-game tension
was thick and the crowd noise was up. Both teams were trying to
break the obvious pre-match tension by engaging in some traditional
silliness. The relaxation games didn't seem work for the Railers, as
they came out "wound tighter than a drum." When the match began and
especially during the four called timeouts, the gym was almost
completely quiet. At the end of the night electric guitars began to
celebrate the Railer victory. Spooky.
It took almost a game and a half
before the Railers relaxed and began to play Railer volleyball. That
brand of volleyball where no ball hits the floor on your side unless
one or two players are stretched out on the floor, having made an
attempt to keep it in play. That brand where the first serve-receive
passes are nicely placed for the setter and where you never lose a
point for being called out of position. I can't explain it, but it
was spooky. I can only hope that the spookiness is now over.
In game one, the Railers jumped out
to an early lead and then let the Generals back in it, making it a
close game. The Railers held leads of 8-3, 12-4 and even 19-9 before
the collapse began. When the Generals stormed back to make the score
20-13, Lincoln's coach Howe had seen enough and called her only
timeout of the night. The Generals weren't overpowering the Railers,
they were instead tipping balls into holes in the Railer defense and
dropping floating serves into the Railer open court. To end game
one, the Railers returned the favor. A great dig by Mel Boyer and a
couple of deep tips by Brooklyn Robbins to the back of the Generals'
side of the court closed the door on game one by a score of 25-20.
In game two the Railers got behind
early and had to fight the rest of the way to pull out the victory.
The comeback in game two rested mostly on the serving of Maria
Benitez and Michi McFadden and the net play of Megan Hoffert and
Erin Frick, with one notable "knock you off your feet" kill by Michi
McFadden. With the Railers down 3-6, McFadden left her usual
dominating spot near the net to lead the comeback from the service
line. Add to that the net play of Erin Frick and Natalie Boward, and
the Railers were back to an 8-6 advantage. Then the consistent
serving of Maria Benitez once again gave the Railers the opportunity
to win the match. With the score tied at 12-12, Maria began serving,
and she didn't rotate over one spot until the score was 21-13 in
favor of the Lady Railers.
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During that nine-point service run,
the Railers finally relaxed and began to roll. With Railers,
especially Katie Green and Mel Boyer, diving all over the floor to
save tipped balls from hitting that floor and finishing kills,
mainly by Megan Hoffert, the Railers began to look like themselves
again. And when the Railers look like themselves, the end is near
for the opposing team.
At 21-13, after another perfect set
from Brooklyn Robbins, Michi McFadden sent a bullet right into the
heart of the Generals' defense and specifically into an unfortunate
Lady General who failed to get out of the way. That shot was the
beginning of the end for Decatur. A nice tip by Jamie McFadden and a
game-ending soft tip by Julie Fults into the open court secured game
two by a score of 25-17 and, more importantly, another regional
championship for the Lady Railers.
Congratulations are in order!
But even as the match ended in
victory, there was a sense that there is still a lot of unfinished
business on the minds of these young ladies. A couple of players
asked me if I knew who had won the match between
Champaign-Centennial and Rantoul… the winner of which would be their
next opponent. It was obvious that while a regional title is nice,
last year's loss in the sectional was still eating at many on this
squad. Many, especially the seniors, remember how it felt to go home
early last year.
So, let the preparations begin.
Champaign-Centennial, a perennial
Railer rival, will be the next hurdle for the Railers to jump if
they want to play on. That sectional match will take place at Normal
Community High School on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. If the past is any
indication of the future, this will be a hard-fought match.
Centennial will bring their game and their fans. I am confident the
Railers will also "bring it."
The spookiness is over. Unfinished
business awaits. Seniors, it's on your shoulders. Refuse to lose.
Play them one at a time. It's two down and six to go.
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