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DeLand-Weldon’s Rowan Crozier scored the first three points of the game – block, kill, block – but that’s where the Crozier and Eagles’ dominance ended and LeRoy’s began.
The host Panthers took the lead 5-4 after an early timeout and never trailed the rest of the match on their way to a decisive 25-13, 25-11 victory in the Class 1A regional championship Thursday.
“What I’m proud of is that the girls didn’t mess around,” LeRoy coach M.C. Deming said. “They took care of business. They didn’t let the rallies go on because our hitters did a phenomenal job of putting the ball down.
Sophomore Kaylin Vallero notched six kills to lead LeRoy to its first-ever regional title. Junior Libby Walls added five kills and 2.5 blocks.
Junior setter Briana Retter had a game-high 13 assists filling in for senior Lauren Russell who rolled her ankle during warmups. Russell tried to make a go of it in the second set, but asked her coach to sub Retter back in for her.
Deming was proud of the unselfishness her team displayed on the court.
“Briana did phenomenal. It was the most mature I’ve seen her and our players all season,” she said. “Lauren said ‘Sub Bri in for me. I want her to come in for me.’ Those kinds of things people don’t see, but they make a huge difference. They were a mature team tonight.”
There were a few tears as the Eagles left the gym, but coach Jay Schatz said his team has plenty to be proud of, including winning a school-record 24 games this season and going over six weeks without a loss.
“They exceeded my expectations,” Schatz said. “We don’t have anything to feel bad about. We won the conference tournament championship for the first time, too. We had a lot of firsts this year.”
Schatz said the Eagles played their best game of the year in the regional semifinal against Fisher, and unfortunately played their only bad match Thursday night.
“That’s the best serving we’ve seen all season. We just couldn’t get a hit off of it,” Schatz said. “When we got a hit, LeRoy played such good defense, we couldn’t get it on the floor. They kept us off-balance. We just couldn’t get anything going.”
Crozier recorded a team-high four kills for the Eagles while senior Brooke Kimball added three to go with five assists.
Senior Mikayla Jones finished with two kills while Summer Berry and Emily Boley had one apiece.
Holly Reynolds tallied a team-high six digs and Alexis Dick added five for the Eagles.
Crozier leads push to title
The Eagles advanced to the championship game with a comfortable win over Urbana Uni High (25-19, 25-18) in the quarterfinal and a not-so-comfortable win over Fisher (25-23, 18-25, 28-26) in the semifinal match.
Crozier led the team with 18 kills, five blocks, nine digs and six aces against the second-seeded Bunnies. Berry had 10 kills and Jones added nine to go with four blocks, eight digs and three aces.
Kimball dished a team-high 19 assists in the three-set match, while freshman Boley tallied 14 assists and four kills.
Dick and Reynolds recorded 16 and 15 digs, respectively.
Crozier smashed 14 kills to pace the Eagles in their first-round matchup with the Illineks. The junior hitter totaled 36 kills in during DeLand-Weldon's run to the championship game.
Jones added nine kills, Berry seven and Dick three.
Kimball finished with 15 assists and Boley had nine for the Eagles.
Broncos run stopped
Cerro Gordo wasn't the favorite to make the regional championship game, but that didn't stop the Broncos from making some noise and turning some heads last week.
Mackenzie Wagoner and Jessica Blunt provided strong net play in wins over Villa Grove and Bement in the first two rounds of the tournament before Cerro Gordo fell to top-seeded Heritage 19-25, 19-25 in the title game on Thursday.
Wagoner notched six kills while Blunt, Leah Henricks and Stephanie Shook added three kills apiece in the straight-set loss. Blunt and Wagoner recorded four blocks each as well.
Setter Molly Lawler dished 14 assists in addition to four digs. Sadie Sawyer led the team with eight digs.
Two days earlier, the Broncos took on a Bement team they were plenty familiar with. Dana Tinkle's squad had already played its Little Okaw rival twice this year, losing both games.
This time, things were a little different.
Henricks smacked a game-high eight kills to lead Cerro Gordo to a 25-20, 25-23 win in the regional semifinal.
Wagoner finished with five kills, Shook and Blunt four apiece, Lawler three and Lauren Winters one.
Lawler tallied 17 assists and 10 digs to pace the Broncos' offense and defense.
Sawyer had nine digs, Shook seven, Henricks five and Brittany Conner four.
Anna Hendrix led Bement (14-9) with a team-high five kills. Maddie Mann added four kills, Sabrina Hinton and Taylor Wegrich three apiece, Marie Lincicum two and Abby Trott one.
Wegrich recorded 15 digs for the Lady Bulldogs while Hendrix and Trott each had eight.
Trott passed out 14 assists and Hinton had a game-high six blocks.
Against Villa Grove, Lawler dished 19 assists as Winters (seven kills), Henricks (six), Wagoner (four), Blunt (three) and Shook (two) took care of the offense for the Broncos.
Sages fall to Urbana
Urbana coach Angela Roloff doesn’t ask much of junior Alayna Jackson when her team takes the court: just lead Tigers offensive attack, stop whatever the other team sends her way, and provide a calm influence when things get a little hectic.
And when that isn’t enough, Roloff tosses her a towel to wipe up moisture off the floor.
Jackson did it all – especially late – in the Class 3A regional quarterfinal against Monticello.
The springy middle hitter notched the final kill in the pivotal second set and recorded six kills and two blocks in the third to lead the fourth-seeded Tigers to a 22-25, 25-23, 25-8 win over the fifth-seeded Sages on Oct. 22.
Urbana rallied back from a 14-7 deficit in the second set to steal the match from Monticello.
“We could definitely feel it,” Jackson said of gaining the momentum in the second game. “I told the team every point is game point.”
Roloff encourages her team not to be afraid of playing from behind.
“We operate from the mindset of do-or-die,” Roloff said. “We’ve got to do it. There’s no choice but to do it.”
After taking set two, the Tigers jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the deciding set behind two Jackson kills and a handful of Monticello errors. Senior Jessica Mack added a pair of kills to keep the pressure on the Sages, and two aces by Michelle Driscoll ended the game for Urbana.
The outcome was different for the Tigers who lost to Monticello exactly a week ago in straight sets.
“You play when it counts,” Roloff said. “You either play or you’re done, and they said, ‘You know what? We really don’t want to be done.’ They came out there and showed it on the court.”
“We had a few things not go our way and volleyball’s a game of momentum,” Monticello coach Emily Walk said. “One or two points at the end of a game can sway things one direction or the other.
"The unfortunate thing is, at the end of the second game we lost that momentum and couldn’t get it back.”
Emily Chitwood and Katie Lienhart led the Sages with eight kills apiece. Grace Blickhan added seven kills.
Elise Pontious dished 20 assists and Kaitlyn Hunt recorded 15 digs.
“Like I told the girls, I still think they should hold their heads high,” Walk said. “They put a lot of heart out there. Nobody expected Monticello, coming from 2A to 3A to do anything, much less take good games from a big school like Urbana.”
Knights come up short
The Blue Ridge volleyball team ended the season with a 20-13 record after a loss to eventual regional champ LeRoy in the quarterfinal match.
Gabby Pearl smashed 11 kills and had four blocks for the Knights.
Emily Zelhart recorded 26 assists and Chandler Morrow tallied a team-high 37 digs.
Jessica Schrock finished with three aces in the loss for Blue Ridge.