Aggressive approach offensively carries Griswold, Suns to regional volleyball championship

Southeastern volleyball

The Southeastern volleyball team celebrates its Class 1A regional championship after beating Rushville-Industry 25-12, 25-14 on Thursday night in Augusta, Ill. | Don Crim photo

AUGUSTA, Ill. — Southeastern volleyball coach Tim Kerr has been waiting for Kenzie Griswold to have a breakout performance.

The sophomore outside hitter delivered at an opportune time.

Griswold had five early kills to help set an aggressive tone and 13 overall Thursday night as the top-seeded Suns dispatched Rushville-Industry in straight sets 25-12, 25-14 in the championship match of the Class 1A regional tournament.

Southeastern (28-7-1) will face Decatur Unity Christian in the semifinals of the Concord Triopia Sectional at 6 p.m. Monday. Mendon Unity will play Hartsburg-Emden in the other semifinal.

“Kenzie is obviously one of our best athletes and just a good jumper and really strong player,” Kerr said. “She’s kind of been hanging in the three-, four- or five-kill range in every match, and (Thursday night) she had that in the blink of an eye.

“This is the type of game we knew she had in her. She has shown little glimpses, but she stepped up and dominated. That’s something that we had been wanting her to do for a long time.”

The 5-foot-8 Griswold was a starter as a freshman on a 34-win team that reached the super-sectional round. Her five early kills staked Southeastern to a 7-3 lead and put Rushville-Industry on its heels. She helped close out the first set with four more kills and a service point off an Abigail Shaffer block at the net.

The Suns were the aggressors in dominating the net the entire match in beating the Rockets, who were seeking their first regional title since 2005, for the third time this season.

However, Amanda Stephens had been the dominating force in the earlier straight-set victories, but she was relegated to being a cheerleader on the bench Thursday night. The 6-foot-2 junior, hobbled all season by tendinitis in her knees that had her in and out of the lineup, was shut down for good Oct. 11.

Stephens sitting out some matches and being limited in what she could do when she played in others as the season progressed forced Kerr to revamp his lineup.

“Without one of our weapons, we had to start all over again,” he explained. “We had to look at our strengths and weaknesses, and we put together this funky, unconventional lineup.

“People who know volleyball are probably asking what we’re doing out there because people are in different spots all the time. We’re hard to scout because no one ever knows where anybody is gonna be.

“We’ve had some success. A lot of girls have stepped up.”

For example, freshman Kara Stephens, a 5-9 middle blocker, had six kills but also five assists Thursday night. Shaffer was called upon to hit, set and play defense. She finished the championship match with a team-high 15 assists and nine digs.

Southeastern’s strong play along the back line in receiving the ball and setting it to attacking zones, along with its dominance at the net, had Rushville-Industry playing defense most of the match.

“One of the subtleties of volleyball is who controls the tempo, who controls the offense,” Kerr said. “When you have to get back to play defense all the time, you’re in trouble. We definitely played offense the vast majority of the time.”

Three Griswold kills and a carry call enabled the Suns to stretch their lead to 10-4 in the second set. The Rockets closed within 18-14, but as was the case for much of the set, they were undone by mishits and service and in-the-net errors as the Suns scored the final seven points to close it out.

The regional championship is the third straight for Southeastern, which finished second in the state two seasons ago. Fifth-seeded Rushville-Industry, which had beaten Havana and Liberty to reach the title match, bowed out at 15-17.

“It’s nice on our part to come out and play well,” Kerr said. “But the water gets a little deeper from here.”

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