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Monday, Nov. 1

A spooky treat     Send a link to a friend

Lady Railers win regional championship

By Rick Hobler

[NOV. 1, 2004]  It was spooky all right. But it had nothing to do with Halloween or a lunar eclipse or even the Red Sox's curse.

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.


[Rick Hobler]

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