BY CHAD DARE
Experience has its advantages.
That definitely proved to be the case in the IHSA Class 1A Super-Sectional volleyball match on Saturday night between the Mount Pulaski Hilltoppers and the Schlarman Academy Hilltoppers.
Mount Pulaski, the Class 1A state runners-up last season, punched its ticket for an eighth state tournament appearance in the past 12 years with a 25-10, 25-11 victory over Schlarman at Streator Woodland High School.
“Mount Pulaski is a strong team, and they are strong every year,’’ Schlarman coach Heidi Crane said. “Listening to their lineup, they are heavy with seniors and girls that have been playing varsity for a while.
“We got a lot of experience tonight. I’m proud of the girls for making this far with a young team. There are not too many people that thought we could get this far.’’
Mount Pulaski started five seniors — all of whom played in last year’s state tournament — while Schlarman Academy had just one senior on its entire roster.
“I think nerves played a factor,’’ said Ella Black, the only senior for Schlarman Academy. “It was a little bit of nerves, and we just backed off a little bit.
“Mount Pulaski came out swinging and we got anxious, we didn’t play our game.’’
The Schlarman Hilltoppers, who end the season at 29-6, unofficially had 22 unforced errors in the match, from net violations to hitting miscues.
“From the start, we were just off,’’ Crane said. “You hope to not have one of those nights, but this was an off night for our team.
“Our passing was off, our hitting was off and we couldn’t put anything down where it needed to go.’’
Schlarman had just 14 kills in the match with sophomore Laura Gross leading the way with four to go along with her team-high seven assists.
“Everything starts with passing,’’ said Black, who finished with two kills and five digs in her final high school match. “So, when you passing is off, the sets are off and then your hits are off.’’
In the first set, Mount Pulaski scored nine of the first 11 points and Schlarman didn’t get its first kill until freshman Shelby Mascari put one down to pull the Schlarman Hilltoppers within 12-4.
The Mount Pulaski Hilltoppers went on to win that opening set 25-10.
Things looked a little better in the second set as Schlarman tied the match at 8-8 and the Schlarman Hilltoppers pulled within 10-9 on a kill from Jordan Marganski.
But that’s when things turned for the Mount Pulaski Hilltoppers.
“We had some good plays, in that second set, but we couldn’t get enough to pull it out,’’ Black said.
Mount Pulaski scored 15 of the final 17 points, nine coming on Schlarman errors, to sweep the two sets.
“We put up a good fight but the service errors and other errors, just got us down,’’ Crane said.
She added that Schlarman is going to keep trying to build its program.
“That’s why we are trying to play as many good teams as we can in different tournaments,’’ she said. “We’re one of the six teams from the Quincy tournament to play in a Super-Sectional tonight.’’
Mount Pulaski (32-8) will play Valmeyer, a 25-15, 25-23 winner over St. Elmo, in a Class 1A semifinal at 9 a.m. this Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.