Chargers showcase ability to attack from every direction in beating Irish for regional crown

Illini West volleyball

The Illini West volleyball team won its first regional championship since 2017, beating Peoria Notre Dame 25-17, 25-14 Thursday night in Canton, Ill. | Photo courtesy Illini West athletics

CANTON, Ill. — Dakota Lafferty found herself being a spectator as much as a coach Thursday night.

Sparked by a booming Josie Bryan kill down the line for the first point of the match, the Illini West volleyball team used its energy and enthusiasm to overwhelm Peoria Notre Dame in a 25-17, 25-14 victory in the Class 2A Canton Regional championship.

It is the Chargers’ first regional title since 2017.

“My favorite part of the game is their energy,” said Lafferty, now in her seventh season as the Chargers head coach. “They feed off of each other, off of points, off of success. I just stand there. I looked around soaking it all up, not wanting to miss a second. The personality of the team is selfless. That’s hard to come by.

“There are a lot of teams and a lot of athletes around the state that get to play volleyball. Not that many get to experience what this group feels — the camaraderie, the selflessness and the success for sure. I love winning, but I love this team’s personality even more.

“Everybody playing for each other and not for themselves, it’s rare to find that.”

The selflessness has led to a 33-4 record and a spot in the Pleasant Plains Sectional. The Chargers, seeded second in the sub-sectional, will face fourth-seeded Petersburg PORTA at 7 p.m. Monday in the second semifinal. Macomb and Pleasant Plains will square off in the other semifinal at 6 p.m.

“The girls knew after last year we were capable of this and they never gave up,” said Lafferty, whose team went 28-9 last season with no seniors on the roster and lost to Quincy Notre Dame in the regional championship. “They all worked together. Tonight was a team win.”

It took everyone.

Bryan led Illini West with 11 kills , 10 assists, 11 service points and three aces, while Reagan Reed had 10 kills and two blocks, Corin Robinson had nine assists, seven service points and two aces, and Kaelyn Ferrill had nine digs, six service points and two aces.

The ability of Illini West’s attack to vary its hitters put the Irish in a no-win situation.

“When Josie went to the back row, Reagan stepped up big,” Lafferty said. “We told her they were double blocking and their libero was creeping up, so she decided to hit the deep corner. As soon as they figured out Reagan was hitting the deep corner and adjusting their defense, Madelyn Boyer came to the front row and did the exact opposite. She had two kills back-to-back off of tips.

“That’s so frustrating for your defense. You think you have it figured out, and the next girl does something different. We’re very versatile, and they complement each other well. We need everybody on this team locked in for this to work.”

The Chargers read the defense well, too.

“Two or three times tonight, our setters decided to go to the right side and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of risky,’” Lafferty said. “But we got kills out of it. They trust each other, and I trust them.”

The Chargers also have the advantage of being multi-dimensional.

“(Peoria Notre Dame) came back and threw punches,” Lafferty said. “But if we just have Josie Bryan or one hitter whoever it is, we might struggle. When you have four or five girls contributing to the offense, it’s really hard to stop that defensively.”

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