Third time’s a charm as Normal U-High upsets No. 13 Bloomington at Intercity


Normal U-High finally knocked off Bloomington on its third try Saturday at the Intercity Tournament.

By Randy Shearer
Special to

NORMAL — The Normal University High School volleyball team displayed steady passing and deadly hitting on its way to winning the 40th annual Intercity Tournament on Saturday.

The secret to success, however, may have been something else as the Pioneers faced Bloomington in their fourth match of the day without a rest.

“It’s a battle of will,” said U-High coach Michael Bolhuis, whose school hadn’t won the title outright since 2008 and hadn’t shared the crown since 2009.

The Pioneers stormed through the five-team round robin without losing a game to improve to 21-4 on the season.

“It’s Intercity … it’s a battle every single match,” said Bolhuis, whose team placed third in last year’s Class 3A state tournament. “I think a certain level of consistency the entire day got it done.” 

U-High ended with a 25-23, 25-18 victory over runner-up Bloomington (18-3) to avenge two earlier three-set losses. The Purple Raiders, ranked No. 13 in Illinois by, won their season opener with the Pioneers, 19-25, 25-22, 25-22, as well as a September 1 meeting in the Edwardsville Invitational, 25-18, 21-25, 16-14.

“We kept our error count down pretty well the entire day,” Bolhuis said. “It just comes down to execution.”

Alayna Crabtree, a 6-foot-2 U-High junior, did plenty of executing at the net while notching a team-high 33 kills for the day. Winthrop-bound Isabel Schaefbauer provided 61 assists and Logan Murray added 33 digs.

The Pioneers opened with a 25-12, 25-18 win over host Normal Community, the two-time defending champion, before stopping Bloomington Central Catholic, 25-17, 25-19, and Normal West, 25-14, 25-16.

“We’ve been working really hard in practice,” Crabtree said. “The setting was really great. The passing was really great. It was really fun.”

A few too many unforced errors took the fun out of Bloomington coach Joe Sanders’ day.

“I don’t want to take anything away from (U-High),” he said. “They played great defense and blocked well. We made 7 or 8 hitting errors in that (15-5 Game 2) run right there. It could have easily been a different game.”

The Raiders opened with a 25-17, 25-15 win over Normal Community before topping Central Catholic, 25-13, 25-16, and Normal West 31-29, 25-19. 

Leah Anderson, a 5-11 Southern Indiana-recruit, led Bloomington with 34 kills while Corinna Jones added 85 assists and Fia Parker 38 digs. Wisconsin-Parkside-recruit Lexi Packard had 5 blocks as did Avery Carr.

Third-place Normal West (21-4) opened with a 25-23, 24-26, 25-11 win over Bloomington Central Catholic and finished with a 25-17, 25-22 triumph over Normal Community.

“In serve receive, we kind of broke down a little bit,” said Normal West coach Kelsey Mueller.

Stephen F. Austin-recruit Dara Kane led the Wildcats with 87 assists while 6-1 freshman Averie Hernandez produced 32 kills and six blocks. Aniya Monla had 38 digs.

Fourth-place Bloomington Central Catholic (7-5) ended its 1-3 day with a 25-17, 25-21 win over Normal Community.

Parkland-recruit Mallory Bergbower led Central Catholic with 23 kills and 41 digs. Morgan Koch, a 6-3 Rider recruit, chipped in five blocks while Kate Moorman-Wolfe had 70 assists.

Normal Community (5-8) went winless in the tournament for the first time since at least 1989. The Ironmen were led by Katie Gerig’s 29 digs and 32 assists while Delaney Dirker had 14 kills.


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