Hartsburg-Emden wins Class 7-1A State Championship

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[March 16, 2017]  Jennifer Hayes and her Stags from Hartsburg-Emden did it again. The outline for the story is the same, the only thing that changes is the opponent, the year and the final score.

In this particular story the opponent is Grayville, the year is 2017, and the scores were 22-25, 25-22 and 25-8.

For the 25th time in her career, Coach Hayes guided her team to an IESA state championship, providing the ultimate storybook ending for any athlete of any age.

Hartem Coach Jennifer Hayes with the newest state championship trophy - #25 in her career at the junior high level

To give the story more of a “oh, this is too good to be true” hype, this time the opponent was not only undefeated but also had not lost a SET the entire season, that is until coming across the mighty Stags in the state championship matchup. You cannot make this stuff up any better.

Here is what happened Tuesday night in Clinton at the Class 7-1A State Tournament in the words of Coach Hayes, “Well, we had a scouting report going in and I had seen them (Grayville) Saturday so I kind of had an idea what their team is made of and in the past I knew that Grayville is a very solid program. So I knew that they would be prepared to play a championship game as well. I was watching them in warmups and never really saw anything that surprised me a whole lot.

"Then the game started and basically these two hitters came from nowhere that were outstanding. It really shook us. We weren’t really prepared for it. We’d never seen it during the games that they had played before. They had a jump server that was spot-on. Their setter was really good. So we kind of got rattled to tell you the truth,” she admitted.

“The first game we were down 3-8 before I called timeout. You know, the girls’ eyes were huge and they were looking at me like, “What the heck?” I was just trying to settle them down and get them to play and you know, be confident.”

Eventually the Stags would pull closer, first 6-9, then 9-12, then still falling short 15-18, before finally making it a brand new ballgame.

“We finally got the score back tied at 19-19. We served a couple crucial serves out, just nerves. We went after a couple balls out of bounds that we shouldn’t have went after and we made a couple silly errors. Really that was the difference. Tied 19-19 and then a couple mental errors and we dropped the game.”

Hartem did have a 21-19 lead before surrendering that and finding themselves down 21-23 late. Seconds later set one went to Grayville 25-22 and Hayes’ squad headed into the huddle to regroup or as she likes to say, “Right the ship.”

“You know, I mean there was fear in their eyes. Like I haven’t seen fear in their eyes really all season. I didn’t know if they were going to come out and play or not. They knew that this was a big championship game that we just lost and they weren’t prepared to lose, I don’t think, in their mind. They thought that they had it, that they were the better team. And then when the other team showed up to be equally as good, I don’t know what they thought about that.”

“When the next game started it was point for point. Both sides were playing really well. Really, neither one of us got a huge lead again and we tied at 19-19.

Lily (Barry) went back to serve which that in and of itself is amazing that we made our run when Lily was in the back row. Usually you would think that would happen while she’s in the front row. She had some crucial serves, couple aces.

Then Jenna (Benner) had a big hit.

Cassie Crabtree had a big block to turn the momentum around, and you could just feel it in the gym. You could just feel everything starting to blend. They (Grayville) called a couple timeouts to try to get their girls settled in. We finished the game strong.” Hartem took the second set by a score of 25-22.

Hartem won the coin flip for the tie-breaking set and ended up getting the serve first. Hayes explained, “It was just a whole different feel. The girls were ready to go, they were ready to play. They were confident again. Then once game three started, it was just a complete different feel.

You could tell that Grayville had yet to lose a set all season, so this was the first time that they had lost. You could tell that really shook their confidence.

In turn we just really came out and played a very solid ballgame.” The Stags took leads of 6-4 and 13-5 over Grayville and showed no signs of looking back in this one. Before long the lead was 21-6, then 23-7 and finally the point Hartem was looking for. That’s a winner, 25-8 in set three!

Hayes explained set three in more detail. “Cassie Bridge was struggling a little bit from the service line, so I made an adjustment. I put in a fifth-grader, Chloee O’Donoghue, to go back in and serve. And she made some really crucial, crucial serves. I think she scored four in a row to give us our first major lead of the entire match. I would say it was probably tied around 5-5 and she gave us a 9-5 lead.

That gave us a little breathing room, and you know as a fifth-grader stepping up at the back line, for someone who hadn’t gotten a whole lot of playing time the whole season.”

Hayes explained that O’Donoghue had dislocated her finger while playing basketball at school during recess and was out for two and a half weeks. Prior to that injury O’Donoghue had been playing really well. “Since she’s come back and she’s really worked hard, I was confident at putting her back there in that situation. I mean she just shined. She made a couple great passes in the back. She just really did the job she needed to do to push us past that moment.”

“Really everybody played great. Jenna had a big block and she had a kill off a block.

Addie (Beekman) was setting.

Allison (Woolard) was setting. We were digging out of the back.

Cassie Bridges was making serves.

Violet (Merz) had a couple plays at the net.

I mean everybody contributed, which was just amazing. Once we got the other side rattled, I mean we were serving and the ball was hitting the floor and they were looking at each other. I was just like, “We’ve got this. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to finish it,” Hayes said, as her voice was also getting pumped up.

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“You know and then they could just feel it. Then the crowd started getting into it and the girls started getting pumped up. Then we ended up setting Lily in the back row for a back row attack to finish the game with Cassie Crabtree putting the ball in play for the serve. I mean it just exploded. It was an incredible win after I know they didn’t know after the first game if they were going to win or not. To come back at that young of an age to flip things around against a very good team and to come back and win in three after you lose the first set of a major match.”

This says so much about the character of these girls.

Hayes agreed. “It really does, I mean at such a young age, holy cow! To get yourself turned around and go forward and overcome those fears and push through adversity to be successful. What a major lesson that is.”

Hayes also admitted the girls were tearing up after that first loss and she told them to get it together. “Take a deep breath. That’s why they make it a game of three. You can lose one and then start over. It’s not over. We’ve got two more sets to play to 25. Get it together.”

She ends up laughing and says, “They shook their heads and were like “okay.”

Talk about teaching these girls to push through.

Stags team captain Allison Woolard was one of those players determined to push through. “We all reacted to the loss (set one) pretty down on ourselves and really upset about it but that didn’t last long because we only lost by three,” she said. “And it definitely was not over yet. When I saw someone get down on themselves all I had to do was go over there and pick them back up and tell them to get their heads back in the game. We were under the feel of defeat, but we knew we had this, somehow.”

To come back and get the next two sets against Grayville was phenomenal, but the Stags have that winning combination of talent and focus.

Woolard admitted there were some nerves but the team’s focus far outweighs that factor. “We were really nervous but all we needed to do was just focus on what we were doing and go through all the motions in our head to make sure everything went perfect. To not let anything distract that. I am so proud of my teammates and how they all pulled off the end of the season with this giant victory.”

Barry, a sixth-grader who led the Stags with 19 kills, commented on the team’s willingness to bounce back after that first-set loss.

“We all started playing together and we talked a lot,” said Barry. “Everybody knew that it was time to come together and start playing because we all wanted to win.”

Barry, who has three medals to show for her hard work in her brief career, and who has experienced the joys of winning on the court and all the celebrating that goes along with it off the court, had this favorite memory to share from the 2017 state championship.  “Probably my favorite moment was when one of my best friends, Cassie, got her first block.”

That block was the one Hayes described earlier as “turning the momentum around” in set two.

For Barry, her passion for volleyball is real and she doesn’t seem to get tired of the sport or let the sport tire her out. “I know that at the end of the day I have to be ready to go back in the gym for tomorrow and practice my hardest,” she said.

Barry will be going for her fourth state championship medal when the Hartem eighth grade team begins their state tournament play on Saturday at New Berlin. After that it’s on to Illini Elite for Barry. No break needed for this 12 year old.

As for that milestone, 25 state titles, reached by Hayes, she was unaware of it until she saw a post somewhere about it, literally the day of the state championship.

Commenting Wednesday night by phone, Hayes said, “It’s funny because if I wouldn’t have read that in a post yesterday, I don’t know if I would have known it. Every year when I start I obviously think we are gonna win it, we’re gonna win it all and we’re gonna prepare to win it all, and to me that’s TWO,” she laughs. “So I don’t think of it beyond anything more than what that season’s goal is and what those trophies are. So each year I get, or try to get, two and I guess they just add up,” she says laughing.

Indeed they have added up, and so have the memories. But for now, that’s another story that just keeps adding chapter after chapter.

Congratulations to the Hartem Stags on their Class 7-1A State Championship and finishing the season 26-2.

Grayville finished in second place with a spectacular record of 22-1.

Jennifer Hayes and her dad Ron Crane with the 2017 State Champions girls volleyball trophy

Hartem stats

Lily Barry 19 kills 13 points 7 aces 11 digs 1 block
Cassie Crabtree 6 points 3 kills 2 blocks
Jenna Benner 6 points 5 kills 1 block
Cloee O’Donoghue 4 points
Allison Woolard 16 assists 3 points
Addie Beekman 10 assists 3 points

[Teena Lowery]

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