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Friday, Nov. 5

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Railers lose heartbreaker in sectional final

By Rick Hobler

[NOV. 5, 2004]  The hardest article to write every year is the last one.

This is it.

Pardon me if I'm a little emotional.

Riding home alone last night from the "outer limits" where Normal Community High School is located, I kept repeating to myself, "It's only just a game." I had almost convinced myself of that truism… until, that is, I saw nine tearful senior young ladies climb off their team bus and huddle up in the cold night air, for probably the last time, on the sidewalk next to Lincoln Community High School.

It's not just a game. It certainly isn't about just one or two games in a season. It's not really even about the game.

It's about the great character, passionate performance and incredible quality of the young ladies who play the game of volleyball in a tremendous volleyball program at Lincoln Community High School. It's about the year-round commitment of great coaches who do so much more than "just coach" these ladies. It's about the giving and supporting families who invest time, money and energy in their daughters and in the entire program. And it's about the emotions that come especially to the players and the coaches, but also to their families and their fans, when that game comes to an end in an unexpected manner and at an unexpected time.

And after the first 20 minutes of last night's match between the Lady Railers and Normal Community High School the only expectation in the NCHS gym was that the Railers' postseason would continue on. It wouldn't. NCHS defeated the Lady Railers 8-25, 25-16, 25-14, to put an abrupt, heartbreaking end to Lincoln's season.

In game one the Railers were as awesome and dominating as I have ever seen them. Nearly every point was played aggressively and powerfully by the Railers. Every Normal kill attempt was blocked and nearly every Normal point came as a result of a long ball hit by the Railers. Every Railer player fulfilled her role, either serving, passing, setting or hitting. Twenty-five to eight. It doesn't get much more dominating than that.

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The Railers continued to dominate as game two began when they jumped out to a 7-2 and an 8-3 lead. It was about that time when Normal changed their game plan. Normal's change wasn't normal for them, but it was effective. Instead of fast, hard-hitting volleyball, Normal began to slow the pace down, tip the ball and look for holes in the Railer defense. The change worked. Normal knotted the score at 8-8 and well… the rest is too painful and too unnecessary to retell. After a third game, the match and the Railers' season came to an end.

The Lady Railers, Coach Howe, Coach Conrady and Coach Kutz have a magnificent season to be proud of when they get a little distance from the emotions of last night. That amazing 33-6 season should and will be celebrated and recognized as the coming weeks go by. That celebration has already started, thanks to Assistant Fire Chief Miller and other fine members of the Lincoln Fire Department and the Lincoln Police Department, who gave the Lady Railers a much-deserved escort into Lincoln and to the high school last night. It will continue, alongside the hurt that the Lady Railers felt last night, probably still feel today and will continue to feel for some time in the future.

So please, go ahead and congratulate all the Lady Railers, recognize and praise them, but whatever you do, don't say, "It's just a game." Especially not to the exceptional group of seniors: Michi McFadden, Melanie Boyer, Brooklyn Robbins, Mia Benitez, Robin Conklen, Katie Green, Megan Hoffert, Julie Fults and Kendall Paulus. For them, and their families, friends and fans, it was the "last game" of a great and successful high school volleyball career. For these seniors, it was really all about the nine teammates, nine lifelong friends, huddled together late last night outside of their high school. That's what it should be about. That part is never over.

It's not about the games; it's about who you played those games with and how you played those games. Be assured, ladies, you played with a great team and you played those games very well. You made your high school, your families and your community proud!


[Rick Hobler]

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