Mount Pulaski beats out Mason City Illini Central for Class 7-2A State Championship - the story

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[March 16, 2017]  When two area volleyball teams meet for a state championship and their fans do not have that far to travel, you can bet you will see a packed gymnasium with some of the loudest fans you have ever heard.

The Mount Pulaski versus Mason City Illini Central crowd Tuesday night at Decatur LSA was filled to the rafters with family, friends and several volleyball alumni all in support of their favorite team. The blue and white fans on one side and the black and gold fans on the other side cheered hard all night long.

Meanwhile the players on the court treated the volleyball faithful to three sets of exciting championship volleyball.

In set one the Illini Central Cougars struck first with consecutive kills to take a 2-0 lead. After several lead changes back and forth early, the score was knotted at 7-7.

Then the Cougars pounced on the Honeybears and took the lead. Ella Wallace ran off three consecutive service points for the Cougars, two of which were aces, and thanks to a missed serve by Mount Pulaski, Illini Central took an 11-7 lead.

The Cougars continued to hold a consistent three-point lead over Mount Pulaski for the next stretch of the ballgame. Mount Pulaski just couldn’t seem to get over a hump and the Cougars kept striking back with kills from Bailey Clark and Gentri Fangmeier to give the black and gold a 23-18 lead.

Bailey Clark would end set one with a tip just over the front line of Mount Pulaski defenders and give Illini Central the 25-19 win.

The two teams battled point for point in set two until Mount Pulaski went on a run with the score 12-11.

It was Mount Pulaski’s big hitter, Cassidy Clark, coming up huge with a kill just at the right moment. The kill put her team up 13-11 but more importantly for Mount Pulaski it rattled the cage of the Cougars.

Eventually with Illini Central showing signs of struggling all the way around, the Honeybears lead grew to 17-11.

A kill by Bailey Clark silenced the blue and white crowd momentarily but the Cougars still had a bit of a mountain to climb.

Wallace took to the service line again and Mount Pulaski found her serve too tough to handle and she brought her team back to within two points, 19-17 the score.

Just as quickly as the Cougars shined, there was another Mount Pulaski player to take away the limelight. This time Alexis Wade was at the service line and she guided the Honeybears all the way to a 24-17 lead.

The Cougars mounted a comeback, but it was a little too late and Je’Na Rentmeister’s kill ended set two 25-20 in favor of the Honeybears.

Set three would be every bit as intense as the first two with a state title on the line.

Mount Pulaski built up a 7-2 lead behind some key serving from Makenna Wilham, but then the Cougars took the lead 9-8 on back-to-back aces by Bailey Clark.

The Cougars dug a hole for Mount Pulaski and began to bury them 14-10 until Rentmeister brought the Honeybears back. One ace and one tip from Rentmeister, combined with a couple Cougar errors, allowed Mount Pulaski to tie the set at 14-14.

Illini Central got the lead back after some Mount Pulaski hitting errors, but then perhaps the biggest moment of the game happened. Cassidy Clark and Clarissa Turner combined for a block that tied the game 16-16 and seemed to be the play that pushed Mount Pulaski over the top.

What happened next was a chain reaction that just allowed the Honeybears to explode.

In short, Hailee Daigh served the Honeybears to a 24-16 lead, capped off with two aces at the end of her serving run.

In the midst of all this, Cassidy Clark found her hitting groove and even managed to set the ball over the net, finding a hole that left the Cougars scrambling.

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After Illini Central took advantage of a couple Mount Pulaski mistakes, the score was 24-18 and here is what happened next in the words of Cassidy Clark. “One of their players served and we had an okay pass from the back row but I didn’t think our setter was going to be able to get there. So I passed the ball behind my head and Makenna roll-shotted it to the back row and they popped it over with a tip, but the tip was blocked. Like, I blocked the tip and so they tried to save it and they ended up accidentally popping it over the net just enough for me to be able to hit it. I hit it to the left-back and she tried to pass it but she wasn’t there in time.” Game point and state championship to the Honeybears, 25-18 the score in set three.

MP’s Clark was proud of her teammates following the comeback win. “I liked how my team didn’t give up, no matter what. We lost the first game but we came back. We didn’t give up no matter what.”

Despite the nerve-racking events of the evening, Clark was able to reflect on her game-changing moment and she gave credit to Daigh and her spectacular serving at the line late in set three. “I think the turning point was when Hailee went up to serve. I didn’t think we were doing too great up to that point, but we were trying really hard and fighting for everything. Once she got up to serve we kind of knew the game was getting to where it might be over,” said Clark.

Over indeed and another state championship for Mount Pulaski’s veteran head coach, Donna Dulle. Her thoughts on the night, while the team seemed a little off on their game, their performance was good enough to win a state title. “We play so bad that first game, I thought. We just made way too many errors,” Dulle said. “The second game was a little better and I thought they (IC) made more errors. The third game, I think we got on a big run and then we had the lead. We never relaxed the whole night. We didn’t play our game the whole night, I didn’t think, but it was good enough to win.”

Dulle also complimented the Illini Central players. “They had the two good players, #21 and #22 (21 Bailey Clark and 22 Gentri Fangmeier), they were awesome players and the one outside hitter was very good, too. They just kept them in the game the whole time. They were awesome players. They were very, very good.”

Dulle was also pleased with how her players stepped up in intense situations. “Down the stretch Hailee Daigh served a bunch of serves in for us. She had one that went right and one that went left and I said, “Just put the ball in the center of the court, honey.” That was big, very big,” she smiled.
“Cassidy had some key hits for us and some great serves, too. You know we always tell the kids, if you are struggling in one area, bring something else that can help the game. So I thought she helped a lot with her serving, especially that second game.

"Makenna, too, had some trouble passing but she made it up with some great serves the second game. So again, if they are struggling they just have to do a little something better someplace else and that’s what they did,” Coach Dulle said.

Illini Central Head Coach Jim Newell saw his team come up just short against Mount Pulaski, finishing the season with a respectable 24-3 record. “We kind of fell off our game a little bit, I think,” Newell said after the contest. “But they are a good team and they played really well over there. They adjusted as we went along and you could tell.”

Mount Pulaski finished the season with a 16-4 record.

Mount Pulaski stats

Clark 7 kills 1 block 2 aces 4 digs
Rentmeister 6 kills 3 digs
Daigh 4 kills 5 aces 3 digs
Wilham 6 aces 7 digs
Wade 2 kills 7 digs
C. Turner 1 block

IESA stats scoreboards/index.asp?year=2017&class=7-2A

[Teena Lowery]

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