BY CHAD DARE email@example.com
---- — STREATOR — For the third time in school history, the Schlarman Hilltoppers volleyball program has reached the Elite Eight — but this group still wants more.
Schlarman, which set a school record with its 31st victory on Thursday, claimed the IHSA Class 1A Woodland Sectional Championship with a 25-16, 25-14 win over Lexington.
“Absolutely not,’’ said Schlarman senior Janelle Marion when asked if the Hilltoppers were satisfied with their second straight trip to Class 1A super-sectionals. “We want more this year. That’s been our mindset since the season started, we want to push forward and make it to state. That’s been our goal all year.
“This win tonight is another step toward that goal. We have taken things one game at a time, and we will continue to do that until we accomplish our goal.’’
Last year, Schlarman saw its season come to end in the super-sectional round at Woodland High School, so claiming the sectional title on that court this year is a little confidence boost for the Hilltoppers.
“We are still hoping that we can push farther than what we did last year,’’ Schlarman Academy coach Heidi Crane said. “There has clearly been a lot of pressure on the girls with the success we had last year.
“These girls have just kept pushing through and now, we’ve gotten ourselves back to within one step of the state tournament.’’
The unusual formula of success in the sectional tournament for the Hilltoppers was to fall behind in both sets.
On Thursday night, Schlarman trailed 4-1 in both sets, and in the second set, the Minutemen (26-11-1) had an 8-4 advantage but the Hilltoppers scored 15 of the next 16 points to secure its third volleyball sectional title in school history.
“It was the same way on Tuesday night,’’ said Crane, referring to Schlarman’s 25-18, 25-18 win over Blue Ridge. “I have no idea where this is coming from. This is a recent thing that we’ve been experiencing. We did the same thing at the Beecher Tournament, and that’s why I’ve hesistated calling a timeout.
“I’m giving them an opportunity, and they have been able to break out that funk.’’
One of the big factors in the Schlarman comebacks in both the first and second set was Marion, who finished with a team-high nine kills.
“It was a good night,’’ Marion said. “I just played my game and I fed off the vibe from my team.’’
While Marion didn’t want to take any credit for her night, her coach was quick to sing the praises of the senior outside hitter.
“She was on fire,’’ Crane said. “She was moving the ball all over the place. She was just getting on top of it.
“She might be one of the shortest girls with the biggest vertical leap that I’ve seen. She has been very consistent all year for us. When we need her to step up, she pulls through.’’
Marion also had four assists and seven digs for the Hilltoppers. Senior Jordan Marganski had a team-high 12 assists to go along with two blocks, while Laura Gross had eight kills, six assists and seven digs. Sophomore Shelbi Mascari had a team-high 11 digs, followed by Sierra Bell with eight. Junior Joslyn Dietzen had three aces and 11 service points.
“Our focus all year has been on the postseason,’’ Crane said. “We wanted to just keep getting better and to keep pushing for our goals.
“We’re one step closer to that goal tonight.’’
Schlarman Academy advances to Saturday’s Mt. Pulaski Super-Sectional where the Hilltoppers will be the Sciota West Prairie Cyclones in a 6 p.m. match.
West Prairie defeated Mt. Pulaski, a two-time Class 1A state runnerup, 25-20, 28-30, 25-21 in the sectional championship match at Hartsburg-Emden on Thursday night.
The Cyclones (29-6-2) are making their third trip to the super-sectionals and West Prairie took fourth in the 2008 state tournament.