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Wednesday, Oct. 22

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Lady Railers remain undefeated in conference play

By Rick L. Hobler

[OCT. 22, 2003]  History. In high school everyone is required to read it. A few get the rare opportunity to make it.

This week those "few" are the Lincoln Lady Railers volleyball team and their excellent coaches. The few include the Railers' talented seniors, Samantha Conrady and Ali Hower. Not since the Central State Eight Conference was formed 11 years ago has a volleyball team or a coach from Lincoln won the conference championship. And the conference dry spell goes back even further than that. In fact, not since the 1990-91 volleyball squad won the Big 12 conference championship under coach Jo Veile has LCHS been able to claim such a title.

Coming into this week the Lady Railers had already conquered the CS8 perennial champions, Jacksonville and Sacred Heart-Griffin. No small task, especially since the Railers had to face Jacksonville in Jacksonville. Coming into this week the Railers conference record stood at 5-0. Coming into this week two final CS8 hurdles stood in the way of Railer history. As of 8:30 last night, with a Railer victory over Southeast, only one hurdle still stands in the way of the Railers' first conference title -- the Senators of Springfield High School this Thursday night.

It was obviously hard last night for the Railers not to look ahead in anticipation of Thursday night's potential history-making match. Combine that with the usually strong emotions that rightly come with Senior Night each year, and there was certainly the potential for the Railers to look past tonight's conference match with Southeast. They almost did.

In the first game of the match LCHS struggled from the beginning and had to pull the match away from Southeast at the end, when they trailed 24-25. As it's often said, "It wasn't pretty." While it appeared that Southeast was clearly outmatched in talent by the Railers, it was obvious as the game began that Southeast didn't know that and had come to play.

In the first half of the match, the Railers could do no better than to stay even with Southeast, as the seven tie scores reflected. It was the net play of Kendall Paulus, both killing and blocking, that kept the Lady Railers in the first half of the match, as the second of her nine kills knotted the match at 8-8.

From that point forward the Railers played from behind until a Michelle McFadden dink made it even at 21-21. Three successive Brooklyn Robbins serves looked to end it all as the Railers pulled ahead 24-21.

Not so fast, said Southeast, as they came roaring back to knot the score at 24 and 25.

An ace serve by Michelle McFadden brought a collective sigh of relief from the fans and coaches alike as LCHS won the first game 27-25.


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The second game wasn't much prettier. Southeast seemed to have lost its fight for Game 2 and, absent numerous Railer mental errors, the match would have been over much sooner than it was. Senior starter Samantha Conrady was excellent as she garnered six of her match-high total of eight service points in the Railer win. Michelle McFadden was both hitting and blocking well. Maria Benitez was "digging it" on defense. LCHS had little trouble building the point spread quickly to a commanding 20-13 lead -- but finishing it was a different story.

The Railers even moved to the very brink of victory with a 24-15 lead. Then Railer after Railer either miss-hit or over-hit potentially match-ending balls, and suddenly it was 24-16, -17, -18, -19. When Southeast rang up 20 points of their own, Lincoln coach Howe called timeout. The home team apparently got the message, and a deep, soft push to the back corner of the Southeast side of the court by Brooklyn Robbins ended the match: 25-20 Railers.

I'm going to chalk up last night's performance as one of those ugly wins that every team endures at some point during the year. I am so glad they have that out of the way, since the road ahead is challenging. The conference title match Thursday at Springfield, regionals at Mount Zion the next week and potential rematches with Champaign Centennial and Normal Community are next.

Now is the time, ladies. Now is the time Railer fans -- where are you?

My unsolicited advice for Thursday -- DO NOT take Springfield lightly. Don't celebrate until you've won. Don't think for a moment that any CS8 team is going to hand a Lincoln team the conference title on a silver platter. You are going to have to take it from them one point at a time. There is a time for sharing -- but Thursday isn't one of those times.

Make some history! Be champions! You deserve it!


[Rick L. Hobler]


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