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Wednesday, Nov. 3

Railers leave Centennial speechless

Rematch with Normal Community is next

By Rick Hobler          Send a link to a friend

[NOV. 3, 2004]  On my drive to Normal last night I figured I would be writing an article about a knock-down, drag-out match between the Lincoln Railers and the Champaign Centennial Chargers. After all, over the last few years and even earlier this year the teams played each other tough. After all, it was the sectional semifinal in one of the toughest sectionals in the state.

I figured wrong.

In the span of about 30 minutes the Lincoln Lady Railers volleyball team completely dismantled Centennial by lopsided scores of 25-18 and 25-5. In both games the Railers jumped out to big early leads and were never seriously threatened. It was not the match I expected.

The Centennial players and coach were stunned after the match. Anyone with a heart had to feel a little badly for Centennial. The Railers expressed their condolences and were then ready to move on to Thursday.

Mia Benitez gave the Railers its quick start in game one, and after a brief Centennial run, Lincoln put the game away. Six successive serves from Mia and finishing kills by either Michi McFadden or Megan Hoffert put the Railers up 6-0. Centennial fought its way back within three at 13-10, 17-14 and 18-15 but could never get any closer. Katie Green had a nice three-point service run and played some great "on the floor" defense to get her team to 16-11. At 18-15, the Railer front line utilized Megan Hoffert, Julie Fults, Michi McFadden and Jamie McFadden to move within striking distance of the win at 22-17. Erin Frick put the finishing touches on the matter with a couple of quick hits from her middle position to end the game. Brooklyn Robbins did her usual superb job of spreading the ball around and helping to avoid defensive blocks by Centennial.

Another great service run, this time by Michelle Fitzpatrick, put game two away almost as soon as it started. Michelle put on quite a show as she carefully placed serves, short and soft or more direct, when instructed to do so by the Railer coaches, and rolled off 13 points in a row. You read that right… 13 points in a row. With the Railers up 14-1, the only matter left for Lincoln was to not lose focus and to finish. They didn't and they did. Brooklyn Robbins, as usual, made sure of that. Four straight service points by Brooklyn and three nice touches by Michi McFadden brought the score to 20-2. Erin Frick and Megan Hoffert again helped finish the match off by the crushing score of 25-5. Message sent.

Centennial's coach, rarely overly gracious about Lincoln teams in the past, acknowledged the obvious when he commented that Lincoln "was a lot better than us tonight." He added, "We dug ourselves such a big hole in both games that we couldn't get out."

When I asked Centennial's star player, Kelly Schmidt for a comment, she told me that she just felt "speechless" and preferred not to comment. After what Centennial had just experienced, I honored her preference.

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In the evening's second semifinal match of the night, Normal Community High School and Bloomington High School went to the wire, with Normal pulling out the win in three games, 25-14, 22-25 and 25-16. BHS tried to win by using little drop shots and finesse. They learned again that you don't beat Normal with finesse.

Thoughts quickly turned to the rematch between Lincoln and Normal Community.

Normal defeated Lincoln at home earlier this year. In fact, Normal's head coach, Andrea Kenny, twice pointed out to me and other reporters, in a post-match interview, that not only had they beaten Lincoln this year, but in her words, "We beat Lincoln fairly easily once this year already." Coach Kenny was, of course quick to add that she was sure Lincoln "has improved since that first match," and, of course, "so have we." Coach Kenny went on to indicate that she will work on front-line blocking to stifle the Railer hitters.

She also pointed out that her team is mentally tough and will stay in the match, no matter what, to the very end. "It doesn't matter if we get down by several points or even if we lose a game, we don't lose our composure. We are in it for the long haul; that's how we win," she added. The Railers will undoubtedly have a response in their play on Thursday night.

It appears that in order to win, the Railers will have to do at least the following: The Railers will first and foremost have to be mentally tougher than NCHS. That task will fall to all the Railer seniors, but especially Robbins, McFadden, Hoffert and Fults. Erin Frick will need to block like never before. McFadden will have to get the call often and do what she does with it: finish it. Benitez, Fitzpatrick, Boyer and Green will have to carry the service and serve-receive load. Every point will need to be fully contested. Nothing can hit Lincoln's side of the floor without an all-out effort to stop it. The Railers will have to play their game and not Normal's game. Robbins will need to be fully aware of Normal's defensive blocking scheme and set the ball where it is not whenever possible. The Railer bench will have to respond as needed, especially to the unexpected. A tall order that I am confident the Railers are ready to deliver.

Three down and five to go. Number four, tomorrow night, will be huge. It will, without a doubt, be the match of the year so far. Refuse to lose.


[Rick Hobler]

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