Mustangs push Stags to brink in both sets, fall short in sectional semifinal loss
CONCORD, Ill. — The Unity volleyball players knew the only way to compete against one of the state’s top Class 1A teams in Hartsburg-Emden was to play the way they had all season long — calm, collected and consistent.
Finding themselves in a dogfight, the Mustangs never wavered in an attempt to upset the Stags, falling short in a 25-22, 25-23 loss in the Class 1A sectional semifinals at Triopia High School.
“I told the girls tonight, if that’s the No. 2 team in the state, that puts us in the top 10,” Unity coach Seth Kluesmeyer said. “The way we played tonight, we played good defense and put up a heck of a fight.”
It was a fight that exhausted nearly every point possible in the two-set affair.
Both teams struggled early to find an offensive rhythm, missing on several attacks over the match’s first 20 serves. Tied at 17, Kodi Duke rifled a kill down the Hart-Em sideline, and Sophia Shaffer added back-to-back kills to give Unity a 20-17 lead.
The Stags’ rebounded quickly with a pair of kills from sophomore Alayna Briggs, and an untimely net error and attacking error helped Hart-Em regain a 23-21 advantage en route to claiming the first set.
“Just trying to outduel the other one, where they were going to put it,” Kluesmeyer said. “We had some untimely serves in that second game. When you lose by two points, those things will cost you a little bit, but it was back and forth.”
The chess match continued into the second set, with neither team ever gaining more than a 3-point advantage. The Stags continued to reload their talented sophomore hitter in Briggs and their all-around strong front line, while the Mustangs continued to find ways to challenge at the net.
A Saylor Barry block gave Unity a 20-18 edge, while a block from Duke and Hayden Frankel kept the Mustangs’ two-point edge at 21-19. A corner shot from Andrea Schaffnit exhausted the Mustangs’ last gasp, tying the second set at 23.
The Stags scored the last two points on kills from Briggs and senior Addie Beckman to advance to Wednesday’s championship match and Decatur Unity.
“We just knew when (Briggs) put the ball down, we had to come and do the same thing on the very next play,” Klusmeyer said. “I thought we passed well on serve-receive, probably our most consistent night.
“I think we played better than we did in the regional. That’s one of the best hitting teams we’ve played, and we had some timely blocks at the end. We worked a lot on defense in the last two days, just trying to pick up things.”
Briggs finished with 11 kills to lead the Stags’ attack. For Unity, Duke finished with eight kills and Shaffer added six as the Mustangs (23-13)bowed out of the postseason in the sectionals for the third straight season.
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