Endurance test: Chargers outlast Bluejays by seizing momentum in third set of sectional victory


Illini West middle blocker Madalyn Boyer, center, and her teammates react to winning a point during the third set of Monday night's Class 2A sectional semifinal victory over Petersburg PORTA in Pleasant Plains, Ill. | Matt Schuckman photo

PLEASANT PLAINS, Ill. — Only four times in 37 matches leading up to Monday night’s Class 2A sectional semifinals had the Illini West volleyball team engaged in a three-set marathon.

And only once had the Chargers won.

“I was kind of worried about that,” Illini West coach Dakota Lafferty said.

So when the Chargers lost the first set to Petersburg PORTA, she was curious to see what came next.

“How are we going to respond to the endurance game?” Lafferty said. “I know that we physically trained for it. We’re in the weight room all the time. We have hard conditioning. I know physically our endurance is there, but is our mental endurance?

“We still didn’t play our best tonight, but man, we were mature. I thought we were mature and we kept fighting until the end.”

After winning the second set to stave off elimination, Illini West rattled off the first five points of the third set and never trailed thereafter, finishing off a 22-25, 25-21, 25-18 victory at Pleasant Plains High School to advance to Wednesday’s sectional title game.

“It was hard work, but we came back,” junior middle hitter Madalyn Boyer said. “It took a lot of team effort and a lot of skill. We really worked hard together, and we finally found a spark.”

It is the first time Illini West (34-4) has won a sectional game since Carthage, Dallas City and LaHarpe consolidated in 2007 and the furthest any Carthage team has been since the Bluegirls finished fourth at the Class A state tournament in 1985.

The Chargers will face Pleasant Plains (28-9) at 6 p.m. Wednesday after the Cardinals beat Macomb 25-21, 25-21 in the first semifinal. Beating Pleasant Plains on its own court will be a challenge considering the Cardinals are 9-2 at home this season.

“I love being challenged,” Lafferty said.

The Chargers accepted the challenge to get the third set off to a good start.

“It felt good because our coach said the first to five and the game’s over,” senior outside hitter Josie Bryan said. “And we did that.”

It changed the tone of the match.

“The momentum is already on your side, so to score the first five points of that set gives you so much more,” Boyer said.

Petersburg PORTA answered by scoring three consecutive points to stem the tide, and it wasn’t until Illini West surged ahead 20-15 where the outcome seemed inevitable.

“(PORTA) never quit,” Lafferty said. “I thought our jobs were just going to get easier eventually, but they never quit. It really challenged our girls, and I believe we became a better team tonight in this one match from knowing every point matters and we have to push.”

Defensively, the Chargers pushed to keep every ball alive. Kaelyn Ferrill finished with 22 digs, while Boyer had 19, Abi White had 11 and Bryan had 10.

“Everyone gives us confidence,” Boyer said. “The perfect pass gives us confidence. A kill gives us confidence. A block gives us confidence. Everything gives us confidence.”

Bryan and Reagan Reed led the Chargers with 14 kills apiece, while Boyer added eight. Corin Robinson had 17 assists and Bryan had 15, while Bryan led the team with 11 service points and three aces and Ferrill had eight service points and two aces.

“Our serve receive was off in the first set,” Bryan said. “We did better as we got deeper into the game. We really stuck together and played well as a team.”

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