SENECA – Clinching a second straight Interstate Eight Conference North girls volleyball championship did not come easy for Coal City on Thursday in a 25-19, 25-22 victory at Seneca.
However, compared with last year, when the Lady Coalers did not clinch until their final conference match – a wild three-game decision at Westmont – this one was almost a breeze.
After Seneca defeated second-place Westmont on Tuesday, the Lady Coalers knew they could finish in no worse than a three-way tie for the title with two matches remaining. A win either Thursday at Seneca or next Tuesday at home against Westmont would clinch it outright.
“I feel great right now,” Coal City setter Kassie Aldridge said. “I think that we played awesome tonight, and all our hard work paid off.”
Aldridge, who finished with 16 assists, got fellow senior Claire Smith going early. Smith had seven of her match-high nine kills in the first game. Smith’s first of two service points gave the Lady Coalers a 7-6 lead.
“Kassie, me and her were on tonight. We didn’t even have to talk, and we knew where each other were,” Smith said. “My coach [Michael Lanoue] helped a lot, to tell me what was open and what wasn’t. I was trying to change it up so that they wouldn’t expect what I was gonna do.”
Coal City looked poised to win the second game by a similar score when an Aldridge ace gave them a 19-14 lead.
However, Seneca erased the gap, and then some, when Lexi Wilkinson had a sideout kill and four straight points to give the Lady Irish a 21-20 edge.
The second of two straight Seneca service errors gave Coal City’s Carly Pavlis the serve, and possibility to close out the match.
On the second of her three points, outside Emily Halliday both negated what looked like a Seneca kill and provided one of her own.
“Emily snuck in and got a dig and a kill combination. ... Her dig and swing combination was, I think, the turning point of stopping that run,” Lanoue said. “Last year, when we played here, we did not do anything right. ... We just totally came with the midset of redeeming ourself and understanding how hard it is to play here, and the girls did a great job.”
Seneca, which is now 21-6-3 overall and 6-3 in conference play, received six kills, two aces and four assists from Madison Wyss and five kills, an ace and 13 assists from Kayla Haines.
“Our players on the team last year had a bitter taste in their mouth from last year, so this is a very important match for them,” Seneca coach Karen Raney said. “It’s obviously disappointing. Early on, we didn’t have enough energy to get to the level we needed to.”