BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MOUNT PULASKI — Mishits, rotation errors and net serves were the wrong combination for the Schlarman Academy volleyball team on Saturday night.
For the second straight season, the Hilltoppers saw their season end with a loss in the IHSA Class 1A Super-Sectional, this time around it was the West Prairie Cyclones defeating Schlarman 25-11, 25-21 in the match played at Mount Pulaski High School.
“That was our problem,’’ Schlarman Academy coach Heidi Crane said. “We just had an off night and it wasn’t our time.’’
And did this one feel different that last year’s loss to Mount Pulaski at Woodland High School.
“It’s probably worse,’’ Crane said. “Last year, it was about our experience. We improved our tournaments that we play during the year. Our overall record was still better. We thought we did everything we had to do to be successful this year.
“When it doesn’t happen like you planned, it’s a little tougher to swallow.’’
Schlarman senior Jordan Marganski, who had a team-high eight assists, said it was still the same disappointment.
“We are a stronger team this year,’’ she said. “We expected to be able to get past this round.’’
But a slow start in the opening set, the Cyclones scored 10 of the first 11 points, led to the Hilltoppers dropping it 25-11. In sectional victories over Blue Ridge and Lexington, Schlarman (31-5) was able to overcome slow starts in both matches.
“This time it wasn’t just a slow start, we dug ourselves a hole and we couldn’t get out of it,’’ Crane said.
Schlarman had just four kills in that set and all four came from junior Laura Gross, who had a team-high seven kills i the match.
“We just played really sloppy in that first set,’’ said Gross, who also had a team-high three blocks. “We had to play cleaner volleyball if we were going to win this match.
“We just played too sloppy and we couldn’t clean it up in time.’’
At times in the second set, it appeared that the Hilltoppers were just a point or two away to getting things corrected, but Schlarman had four service errors in that set.
“It seemed like we were trading points with them for a while,’’ said Crane, whose team actually had a 17-15 lead at one point.
But, West Prairie (30-6-2) got seven kills in the game’s final 14 points to claim its first Super-Sectional title since taking fourth in the 2008 state tournament.
“I told them before that second set, that I wanted to see the Schlarman team that I’ve seen all year,’’ Crane said. “The amount of hustle that they put out there was unreal, unfortunately, our execution wasn’t there with our effort.’’
Marganski agreed, “In the second set, we picked up our intensity. But that wasn’t our volleyball.’’
“In the first set, we had neither,’’ she added. “We didn’t play the clean volleyball that we needed to play to win this match.’’
With the loss, Schlarman ends its season in the Elite Eight round and the Hilltoppers set a school record with 31 victories this year.
“You feel like there should be more,’’ Crane said. “We have been lucky enough to make it to the Elite Eight in back-to-back years, but clearly, we want to jump over that hurdle and keep moving forward.’’
Marganski, who is one of three seniors along with Janelle Marion and Lexi Rangel, admitted that the team couldn’t appreciate fully what they had accomplished this season.
“Maybe in a week or so, we will realize it,’’ she said. “Right now, we’re just too disappointed to think about it.’’
West Prairie advances to Friday’s IHSA Class 1A State Tournament where the Cyclones will face Rockford Keith Country Day in a 9 a.m. match at Redbird Arena.