The Herscher Tigers dropped down to Class 2A this fall, which could mean trouble for other area small schools.
Conference: Heart of Illinois
Head coach: Joe Estes
Last season’s highlights: 17-14 overall, 8-7 in conference, won third consecutive regional title, lost 20-25, 25-22, 25-21 to Lexington in a Class 1A sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-8 junior outside hitter Regan Reed (145 kills, 256 kills), 5-11 junior middle blocker Kayla VanWeelden (132 kills).
Coach’s quote: “We’re optimistic. We play in a tough conference that gets us ready to compete in the state tournament.”
Outlook: The Heart of Illinois Conference features small-school powerhouses like Hailey Flowers-led Eureka, Deer Creek-Mackinaw and (Downs) Tri-Valley, which are all classified 2A by the IHSA for purposes of the state volleyball tournament. So when the Falcons compete against schools their own size in Class 1A, their schedule begins to pay big dividends.
School: (Franklin) South County
Head coach: Becky Spencer (first year at South County, 21st year overall)
Last season’s highlights: lost to (Raymond) Lincolnwood 25-19, 25-15 in a Class 1A regional final.
Top returnees: 5-5 junior outside hitter Madi Watret.
Top newcomers: 5-6 junior outside hitter Abbey McCue, 5-8 junior middle hitter Kacey Tillery, 5-5 junior setter Sam Mies.
Coach’s quote: “I expect to be very competitive. We have worked hard this summer to improve our defense and serving.”
Outlook: (Raymond Lincolnwood) and (Springfield) Lutheran are the favorites in the MSM, but Spencer expects the South County Vipers to be right there with them.
Did you know? South County is a co-op between Franklin (enrollment: 81) and Wavery (enrollment: 108) The schools also co-op in boys and girls cross-country, boys and girls track, boys and girls basketball, boys golf and cheerleading. Franklin and Waverly co-op with New Berlin (enrollment: 249) in baseball, football and softball.
Conference: Interstate Eight
Head coach: Joel Huizenga
Last season’s highlights: 18-18 overall, 9-2 in conference (second place), lost 25-19, 25-16 to Providence Catholic in a Class 3A regional final.
Top returnees: 5-10 junior outside hitter Claudia Huston (230 kills, 210 digs), 5-7 senior outside hitter Megan Berns (114 kills, 75 digs, 25 aces), 6-0 sophomore middle blocker Mady Offerman (138 kills, 31 blocks), 5-3 senior setter Chloe Chavers (310 assists, 26 aces).
Top newcomers: 5-2 junior libero Olivia Ruder, 5-5 junior rightside hitter Anna Cotter.
Outlook: Manteno, led by Kaycie Wenzel, is the favorite in the Interstate Eight and could be in the mix for a Class 3A sectional final appearance. However, Herscher dropped to 2A from 3A a year ago and should challenge Beecher and Kennedy Bauer-led Watseka in the Class 2A state tournament.
Coach’s quote: “This season really depends on how we come together as a team. We have all the tools in place to improve upon our finish from last year. We have great depth at every position. I expect to challenge for a spot in a Class 2A sectional.”
Did you know, Part I? Junior outside hitter Mady Rogers, one of the top five runners on Herscher’s cross country team that finished fourth in Class 1A in 2017, decided to focus on volleyball this fall.
Did you know, Part II? Senior middle blocker Mattie Brown, who has not played volleyball since seventh grade, has been an all-area soccer player for the past three years and an all-area basketball player for the past two. She broke the school’s goal scoring record two-thirds of the way through her junior season.
School: Indian Creek
Conference: Little Ten
Head coach: Stephanie Crutcher
Last year’s highlights: 11-20-2 overall, 2-6 in conference, lost 25-22, 25-20 to Amboy in a Class 1A regional quarterfinal.
Top returnees: junior middle hitter Evelyn Witte, 5-7 senior middle hitter Kylee Holler, senior libero/setter Autumn Johaningsmeier, senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Kaira Langston
senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Chloe Stambaugh.
Top newcomers: sophomore outside hitter Trysta Foster, junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Maya Petragallo, senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Jesika Lowe, senior setter Riley Oros, senior setter/rightside hitter Jodie Penman.
Coach’s quote: “The outlook for the season is very positive with us co-oping with Paw Paw. We are still working on communicating and learning the system together. However, the addition of their key players with our returners makes for a very strong lineup. There are 19 girls out for varsity, so every athlete is competing hard for playing time. We are hoping to improve on both our overall and conference record from last year.”
Outlook: Newark figures to rule the Little Ten with Somonauk, LaMoille and Earlville fielding strong teams. But the co-op with Indian Creek and Paw Paw (10-9-4 in 2017) figures to add a new wrinkle to the conference chase.