CHANNAHON – A second-place finish at the 2013 IESA Seventh Grade Class 4A Girls Volleyball State Tournament provided Channahon Junior HIgh’s players with both confidence and motivation.
The Indians gained confidence from going 22-2 overall and only finishing behind Edwardsville Liberty in the state as seventh-graders. Yet, the way their season ended with a 25-20, 25-23 loss to an unbeaten Liberty team did not sit well with them.
“They didn’t like getting that second place the year before, so they wanted to one-up that finish [in 2014],” Channahon eighth-grade coach Char Roberts said.
Channahon, Liberty and Pekin Edison all brought perfect records to this year’s Eighth Grade Class 4A State Tournament. After each winning their quarterfinal matches in two sets, Channahon and Liberty drew each other in the semis. There, the Indians prevailed ,25-20, 21-25, 25-18, to advance to their first-ever eighth-grade state championship in volleyball.
Roberts said that because of the history between the teams, Channahon’s players had almost placed more emphasis on Liberty than on Edison, which they drew in the final. That might have seemed like a mistake when, after winning the first set 25-17, the Indians lost the second, 25-23. They then had a 20-12 third-set lead shrink to 24-23 before an Edison service error provided the final point and gave them the state title.
Relief, as much as joy, was what some players felt when the final match ended.
“We were all really, really tired from going to three games,” Channahon outside hitter Taylor Baranski said. “I mean, it was really exciting, and everyone was excited. It was pretty cool.”
Channahon’s run was not an unexpected or unlikely one, not after the team experienced as much success as it did the year before. Roberts viewed a state championship as a real possibility before the season began.
“Most definitely, but I tried not to say it out loud. Everybody else was telling me that’s what was going to happen. They had no questions,” Roberts said. “In the back of my mind, I knew it could happen, just from the way they were last year, but once tryouts came and I saw the determination and the improvement that the girls had, it became more real. It was pretty evident that that’s what they wanted.”
Some players admitted that they realized a championship could be had before the start of the season.
“I was just excited for the year since last year we got second, so I knew that we could push and get first,” defensive specialist Stacey Tyrell said. “They said [going into] eighth grade, the [opposing] teams will improve, but we also will improve. I knew that we were so close last year, and I mean we could’ve won that game.”
Today, Roberts admits that she could tell the Indians had championship-type talent in preseason practice – “they started a hitting drill, and the balls were just hitting the floor,” she said. That talent became more obvious, she said, when the Indians began routinely beating opponents with whom they traditionally have struggled in lopsided, two-set matches.
“After we finished our season undefeated, we kind of figured that we could keep going,” setter Emma Wiegmann said, “and then after we won regionals and sectionals, we were pretty excited to be able to have the opportunity to play at state.”
The ease with which the Indians breezed through the regular season meant the situations they faced at state, first against Liberty and again against Edison, were unfamiliar.
The outlook looked particularly grim, at times, during the championship match. The Indians fell behind 9-3 in the second set, and after rallying to tie the score at 22, they were unable to get key points late.
“The first game, we were really energetic and good,” Channahon middle blocker Holly Bonde said. “Second game, we started off good, and then I don’t know, just mental errors, and then the third game, we just had to push hard. ... When that happened, the other team definitely took advantage of it and used our little mistakes to get ahead.”
As a 20-12 third-set lead was whittled down to 24-23, Bonde said, some of the Indians struggled to remain confident, but they remained supportive of one another.
“If they’d keep messing up, they’d get a little down, but we’d help them back up or move things around to adjust the positions everyone was in,” Bonde said.
The way the match ended, with an Edison player’s serve going into the net, was not exactly the way Roberts had dreamed it, even if it produced a dream result.
“We were hoping for a good kill to get the ball back and win the game, but we ended up losing on that little technicality. We’ll take it,” Roberts said. “We’ll take it.”