COAL CITY — Since the IHSA went to a four-class playoff system in girls volleyball in 2007, the Coal City Lady Coalers have yet to win a regional championship.
The task of ending that drought became significantly more difficult when the IHSA Board of Directors voted to change its class allotment earlier this year. Rather than having 27.8 percent of schools classified as 1A and 2A, and 22.2 percent as 3A and 4A, in a four-class system, each class will be made up of 25 percent of competing schools in 2012-13.
In the old system, Coal City was usually one of the larger 2A schools in the state. This school year, it instead will be classified as 3A, forcing the Lady Coalers to compete against larger schools that were already 3A, like Morris, in the volleyball postseason. Coal City's enrollment, per the IHSA website, is 617, meaning the Lady Coalers will be in the same class as many of what coach Michael Lenoue believes are the toughest volleyball teams in the state.
"The cut was 531 students, so there was no chance we would be under that mark," Lanoue said. "A lot of the best volleyball teams in the state are 3A. You get a ton of girls that play club ball. Obviously 4A is tough too. You get the really huge enrollments there, and there are some very good programs, but for the highest volleyball competition level in the state, I think 3A is where it's at."
Several of the Lady Coalers' biggest rivals, inside and outside of the Interstate Eight Conference, will also make the jump up to 3A from 2A.
"Manteno is 3A this year. So is Peotone, and Bishop McNamara. Herscher and Braidwood are 3A. Braidwood was 3A by five students," Lanoue said.
The new alignment eliminates the possibility of a postseason rematch with Wilmington, which eliminated the Lady Coalers from their own regional last season in the championship match. It was a difficult loss for the Lady Coalers to take, but one from which they have since tried to learn.
"It taught us not to focus on the loss, but to see what we can to to improve and come back and do our best this year," junior setter Kassie Aldridge said.
Despite their playoff drought and the move up, the Lady Coalers think a regional title and a deep postseason run are possibilities.
"I think definitely, once we get into the flow of it, that we can go far," junior outside hitter Emily Halliday said. "The talent and competition will be harder, but we have the team to do it."