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Friday, Oct. 8

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Railers fall to Normal Community, face Jacksonville next

By Rick Hobler

[OCT. 8, 2004]  The Lady Railers couldn't have asked for a better atmosphere last night at Lincoln Community High School.

On the other hand, they couldn't have asked for a worse result.

With homecoming activities running full speed, a capacity crowd larger than I have ever seen for a Lady Railer home volleyball match, and two great volleyball teams to play the match, the atmosphere at LCHS last night was almost perfect. The result, however, for the Lady Railers, was certainly far from perfect.

I have been in gymnasiums before when these two great volleyball programs met, and sometimes the Railers have left the floor embarrassed. Last night was NOT one of those nights. In a tough match, decided somewhat by small errors at crucial times, the Lady Railers went "toe to toe" with the Ironmen of Normal Community. In the end though, one team left disappointed, but no team left lacking respect for the other. The Railers were ultimately defeated by a tough Normal Community team by a match score of 23-25, 17-25.

The action was fast and furious throughout game one, with each team bringing out all of their volleyball weapons. A fair match summary would be that the Railers brought out their hitting arsenal and the Ironmen brought out their blocking arsenal, and on this night, the blockers prevailed.

Game one started out well enough for the Railers as they quickly built a 5-1 lead and then a 9-5 lead over NCHS. Timeout NCHS.

Whatever the Ironmen coach said during the timeout was taken to heart by her players, and the Railer lead soon evaporated with the score tied at 12-12. The teams fought back and forth with no more than a two-point spread between them until a Normal block sent the score to 20-17 in favor of the visitors. Two Ironmen miscues brought the score to 19-20 and a Megan Hoffert "ballistic missile" tied the score at 20-20. A critical Railer missed serve once again put the Ironmen up 22-21, but once again Megan Hoffert brought the Railers back even with another nice kill. With Michelle Fitzpatrick serving, the Railers went up by one at 23-22, but that would be the end for the Railer scoring. Three successive points by Normal, primarily from their senior outside hitter, Bre Leisner, ended game one at 25-23.

The game one loss seemed to take its toll on the Railers and they never seemed able to fully recover in game two. But the Railers' inability to win the second game doesn't mean they didn't give it their all trying.

Initially they dug a large hole for themselves… a very large hole. Down 0-3, then 2-6, then 3-12, the Railers looked like they were going to get blown out. Not so, courtesy of the front-line play of Megan Hoffert, Erin Frick and Michi McFadden and the serving of Michelle Fitzpatrick. The Railers showed their heart as they battled back to 7-13, and then with three successive Hoffert kills followed by a Michi McFadden kill the score stood at 12-16. Timeout NCHS.

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Upon returning to the floor, Normal put a virtually impenetrable blocking wall that lasted until match point. Hit after powerful hit by the Railers seemed to bounce right back at the Railers after front-line Ironmen blocks rejected them. In the end the blocking prevailed over the powerful hitting and so did Normal by a score of 25-17.

Overall, I thought Megan Hoffert had her best match of the season, and her statistics bear out that observation. Megan had a team-high eight kills, combined with three blocks, and she seemed to be able to get through the Normal blocks all night. Michi McFadden also had eight kills and eight crucial digs as she came all the way from the back line many times to dig up short serves from Normal that otherwise would have been aces. When Michi wasn't digging out tough Ironmen hits, Brooklyn Robbins was, and she ended the match with six digs. Michelle Fitzpatrick was the most effective Railer server as she came away with six service points. The rest of the Railer blocking was carried out by Erin Frick. Brooklyn was, as always, tireless in her setting responsibilities.

But all of that wasn't enough last night. "Little" Railer errors like long or short serves, some poor first passes, and a repeated failure to recognize and adjust to the defensive blocking become "big" when you play an equally tough and talented team like Normal.

Last night the Ironmen made fewer errors and as a result won the match.

Last night, NCHS played a better match. Maybe another postseason night will bring a different result. Time will tell.

I have one final cause for concern. It seems to me that the Railers are playing with a great deal of heart, while under the pressures of high expectations, but they aren't having much fun. I hope the Lady Railers will return to having some FUN (how about a good pre-game round of duck-duck-goose?), while they courageously play out and win the rest of their regular-season matches.

And with Jacksonville coming to town next week, all I will say, as always, is…


[Rick Hobler]

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