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Thursday, Sept. 11

Purple people beaters

Lady Railers open their
volleyball home season    
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By Rick Hobler

[Delayed report due to technical difficulties]

[SEPT. 11, 2003]  Some things change. Some things remain the same.

Last night the 2003 junior-filled version of the Lincoln High School Lady Railers volleyball team began its home season on the newly painted floor at Roy S. Anderson gymnasium. The Railers returned home undefeated after impressive wins in their first two matches on the road against Peoria Richwoods and Morton. Last night didn't change that fact, as the Lady Railers improved to 3-0 with a comeback 25-23, 22-25, 25-19 win over the Purple Raiders of Bloomington High School.

The team has, of course, changed dramatically after the loss of last year's senior starters. This year the starting lineup consists of mostly familiar names, some who continue as starters from last year and some who have stepped into starting positions. Returning to starting positions are Brooklyn Robbins, Samantha Conrady and Michelle McFadden. Familiar faces filling and rotating into the spaces left by the 2003 graduating class are Maria Benitez, Julie Fults, Megan Hoffert, Kendall Paulus, Katie Green and Melanie Boyer. All did a great job last night -- and it literally took every one of them to pull it off.

Also changing this year, for better or worse, are the crucial scoring rules. No more games to 15 or pointless "side out" scenarios or "net serve" losses. Catching the trend of collegiate and professional volleyball, the new IHSA "experiment" for the 2003 season is to play the best two out of three games to 25 points, with a point being awarded to someone each time the ball hits the floor. Missed serves count a point for the other side, which may alter the way serving is actually carried out by teams. The most "interesting" and perhaps the most difficult change for the players on the court is the net serve being playable.

Most of the rule changes were made for the express purpose of stepping up the pace of the game. Last night, that purpose wasn't evident. In a varsity match that lasted approximately an hour and a half in a saunalike gymnasium, the Railer win was anything but quick.

Some things stay the same.

Like the long-running rivalry between LCHS and all of the Bloomington-Normal programs. Even though it's only the third match of the season, you wouldn't know it by the intensity that's evident when Lincoln and Bloomington work the same floor. This was no early season warm-up match. No usual non-conference, third-match-of-the-season-type setting. This was a fight to the end. Some things never change.

In Game 1 the Lady Railers jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead, primarily on the excellent serving of Brooklyn Robbins and the net play of Hoffert, Fults and McFadden. At that point the Purple Raiders woke up and began to inch back into the game. At 15-13 coach Howe had had enough and called a timeout, but that didn't stop the bleeding. Bloomington's Kaeleigh Rousey continued to serve well against the home squad, and at 15-17 coach Howe again called the ladies to her side for a brief discussion on focus and other such crucial matters. The game then seesawed back and forth -- first even at 20, then even at 21. Finally, the Railers began to pull away when it counted and ended up winning the first game 25-23.


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Game 2 was another hard-fought battle from the beginning serve. It was a game where the Lady Railers again lost focus (and a player's shoe) at a crucial time and couldn't recover in time against a determined BHS squad that capitalized at the end. After exchanging points throughout the game, a driving kill from Michelle McFadden knotted the score at 18-18. The Railers then failed to score on their own serve, 18-19. On the very next exchange the LCHS front line lost not only a shoe off one of its players (whose name will remain anonymous to protect the innocent) but also its organization and intensity -- 18-20 in favor of Bloomington. At that point coach Howe suggested, from the bench, an attitude adjustment, but it was too late. Bloomington went on to capture Game 2 by a score of 25-22.

With the momentum now squarely on the side of the "purple people," it was yet to be seen how the young Railers would respond to their first challenge of the young season. The answer: After a shaky beginning, they responded like champions. The shaky beginning was best evidenced by BHS jumping out to a 3-0 lead, which continued to grow until the scoreboard showed an even more serious score of 16-11 in favor of the visitors. The Railers stayed in the game somewhat through the net play of Michelle McFadden and Megan Hoffert, whose focus and desire to win were evident in Game 3.

After an LCHS timeout at 11-15, the Railers responded. Each time Bloomington would get one point, the Railers would get three or four. That was good math for the Railers. Bloomington could manage only four more points the entire game, while Lincoln garnered 14 to take the deciding game and the match.

I attribute much of the end of the Game 3 comeback victory to the tireless hustle (resulting, I am sure, from strength gained in preseason conditioning) of the entire team, but especially Katie Green and Brooklyn Robbins. Katie's face-to-the-floor dig allowed the score to be tied at 17-17, and her behind-the-bench pass from off the court took her team to 21-18. Brooklyn's tireless efforts at setting and serving, added to her defensive efforts, were especially notable. While Katie, Brooklyn and others were running all over the back court defensively, Samantha Conrady, Julie Fults and Kedall Paulus took control of the net at the end. Once again the team effort resulted in the victory.

Here are the notable varsity numbers for the entire match: kills -- McFadden 12, Conrady 10; assists -- Robbins 33; service points -- Robbins 10, Green and Fults 7 each; digs -- McFadden 18 and Conrady 11.

In junior varsity action LCHS also defeated BHS, by scores of 25-22 and 25-18. The JV also remains undefeated in match play. The Lady Railer freshman lost a tough match by scores of 24-26 and 24-26.

The Lady Railers play another Bloomington-Normal rival, Normal West, at home on Thursday. The freshman match begins at 4:45 p.m. with the JV and varsity matches to follow. Normal West also beat Bloomington last week. Look for another tough match between the Lady Railers and Normal West. Some things never change.


[Rick Hobler]

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