Mustangs keep good vibes rolling, oust Trojans with strong finish to both sets in regional title tilt

Unity volleyball

The Unity volleyball team won the Class 1A Payson Regional championship Thursday night, beating Triopia 25-17, 25-16. | Photo courtesy Unity High School

PAYSON, Ill. — The best may be yet to come for the Unity volleyball team.

Or so Hayden Frankel thinks.

“I honestly don’t think we’ve played our best yet,” said Frankel, a senior setter.

Frankel’s assessment came shortly after Unity’s relatively easy 25-17, 25-16 elimination of Triopia on Thursday evening in the Class 1A regional finals before a crowd of about 400 at Payson High School.

“I think we’re beginning to peak at the right time,” Frankel said.

There was little to argue about that evaluation.

Unity, a No. 3 seed, won its third straight regional. The Mustangs controlled the better part of both games in raising their record 23-12. Triopia, a No. 2 seed, closes at 26-11.

“I had not seen Triopia play, and I really didn’t know what to expect,” Unity coach Seth Klusmeyer said. “They had a really good record, but we had people step up and we were able to put a lot of balls where they weren’t.”

Unity meets Hartburg-Emden in a sectional semifinal matchup at 7 p.m. Monday at Triopia. Hartburg-Emden (29-7), a No. 1 seed, ousted Illini Central 25-4, 25-10 on Wednesday night. Illini Central (11-20) was a No. 11 seed.

Unity closed both sets against Triopia with decisive bursts. The Mustangs scored 14 of the final 19 points in the first set and nine of the final 11 in the nightcap.

“I could tell we were beginning to take control at certain points in both games,” Frankel said. “You could just feel it.”

Frankel ended with 22 assists, while Sophia Shaffer, a senior outside hitter, was a force up front with nine kills.

“Sophia just controlled the net,” said Klusmeyer, who is now 422-211 as Mustangs coach, a mark that includes eight regional titles.

Underclassmen also played key roles for Unity, starting with Saylor Berry, a sophomore outside hitter, who had an impact with her eight kills. Another sophomore, middle blocker Kodi Duke, notched eight service points.

Senior Abby Pilkington, a defensive specialist, came up with eight digs and seven service points.

Unity had what Klusmeyer termed a “strong September” and then was unable to build on that momentum during an up-and-down October, until the recent Pawnee tournament, which served as a warm-up to the postseason.

Unity finished second to Taylorville at Pawnee, winning four of five matches there. Klusmeyer feels his club has carried that strong showing into the postseason.

The Mustangs’ trips to the sectional in 2022 and 2021 saw them fall to Springfield Lutheran each year. Unity was beaten in the sectional finals in 2022 and in the sectional semifinals in 2021.

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