NORMAL — The Mackenzi Tabbert to Megan Schlechte combination has worked throughout the season for WSS's volleyball team. It was more evident Friday in the Illinois High School Association Class 1A state semifinal at Redbird Arena. Tabbert set a state tournament record for the most assists in a Class 1A state tournament game with 48, while Schlechte set the record for the most kills in a Class 1A state tournament game with 29. 

The two helped the Hatches to a thrilling 27-25, 24-26, 25-19 win over Durand.

WSS, a sports co-op of Windsor and Stewardson-Strasburg, is to play for the first state title in its short three-year existence. The Hatchets, who improved to 34-6, are to play Payson-Seymour, a team that is 40-1, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

"It is awesome," said WSS coach Ronda Schlechte of advancing to the state championship for the first time since Stewardson-Strasburg finished third in 2013. "It was a hard-fought game from both sides. I thought we did the things we needed to do. I am so proud we were able to pull that off. It was  a nail-biter."

Stew-Stras made it to the state championship game on four other occasions (1984, 85, 86 and 2013 with 84-86 all being in Class A in the two-class system).

Keith Country Day's outside hitter – a team that Durand beat 20-25, 25-18, 25-19 in the Newman Central Catholic sectional championship – was very comparable to Megan Schlechte. "She hit the line and can go across just as hard. When they (Keith Country Day) needed a side out they went to her and WSS did also with Megan," said Durand coach Molly Kelsey. "That is how we set up our defense to key in one player because heck, if I had a great hitter like they do, I would absolutely go to that one most of the time."

In the third set, the Hatchets led 19-18 when Kasey Bean, whose kill had put them ahead 18-16, earned another one of her season-high 10 kills for a 20-18 lead. Taylor Rentfro, one of four seniors on the team, served the next three points, including an ace and another kill by the 5-10 Bean. After one of six WSS service errors in the match, another kill by Bean gave the Hatchets the match point with a 24-19 advantage. Megan Schlechte's kill off a Tabbert set sent the Hatchet players and fans into a frenzy.

"It was awesome," said Maria Gentry, a senior who had seven kills. "Last year we were a little down because we didn't get to the championship." They lost in the semifinals to Lanark Eastland 25-22, 25-27, 25-18, before placing third with a 25-15, 26-24 win over Norris City-Omaha-Enfield. "It feels good that we did it this year," she said

Earlier in the third set, WSS scored four straight points to break the only tie of the set on three serves by Mikayla Haddock. WSS took what was the biggest lead of the entire match, 8-3 and then 10-4 after a Durand hitting error. WSS led 13-9 when the Lady Bulldogs battled back to within one with three straight points, including two kills by 6-0 senior Kaite Asche. The Hatchets pulled in front by four again with two of the teams seven aces.

The first set featured 13 ties and saw the Hatchets overcome two set points before a kill by Megan Schlechte off a set by Tabbert and a tip by Tabbert on a set by Calla Roney ended the set. 

"I feel like they caught us with their blocks as we struggled to hit around them several times," said coach Schlechte. "They pulled up a lot of our good hits too. They are a nice strong team. I watched them in practice Thursday and their middles ran everything, but today they moved it around and that psyched us out just a little bit."

Kelsey said of the first set, "That was anybody's game. It was back and forth. Had we won the first set, it could have been a totally different match, but we didn't and so it was a different outcome."

In the second set WSS again lead early, taking an 8-4 lead on an ace by Megan Schlechte. That was the largest lead for the Hatchets. Durand tied the set at eight (one of 12 ties) on three serves by Marissa Kelsey including a block by Alyssa Brauer. The Lady Bulldogs took their biggest lead, 18-15 on three serves by Katie Nevdal as Asche, Nevdal and McKenzie Damon all had kills. 

The Lady Bulldogs, who were making their first appearance at the state tournament, led 21-17 after a block by Brauer. WSS rallied to even the game at 22 on a hitting error after an ace by Rentfro. It was deadlocked at 24 when Asche, who led the Durand in kills with 15, had back-to-back kills to force the third set. 

"I try and get to her faster on the net," said Tabbert of setting Megan Schlechte. "Because their blockers don't have time to get out there, and that is when she puts it down. I feel good then because that means I had a good set. I try my hardest to get everyone set up and get them the best that I can. I don't feel any pressure on getting it to them as I trust my teammates."

Megan Schlechte and Haddock led WSS in digs with 15, while Tabbert was tops in aces with three. The Hatchets hit at a .286 percentage compared to .185 for Durand. 

"The cross was working," said Megan Schlechte. "It feels really good to smash the ball and you just have to keep doing the same thing every time. We are really excited to be in the championship this year."

Eight students cheering for WSS had 'H-a-t-c-h-e-t-s' written on their chest in green, and a fan bus brought most of the students to the match, which also had the Neoga band playing. 

It was the 13th time WSS had played a three-set match (10-3 is their record in three-set matches). 

"It shows that we can come back and fight," said coach Schlechte. "They came back and fought really hard and having that many three-set matches does prepare you for that."

As for Saturday, coach Schlechte said, "We won't do anything different than what we normally do. You are coming into a championship game knowing you have a 50/50 shot. Payson-Seymour is a very, very good team."

A state title would be the first since Stew-Stras won it in 1986, which was the only other title. 

Payson-Seymour's only loss was to Lincoln in the Riverton Fall Classic 25-16, 25-21. The Lady Indians have had only one match go three sets (Hannibal, Mo). The only other time Payson-Seymour has been in a state championship in any sport was in the 2011-12 school year when the softball team placed second in a 6-0 loss to Goreville. The volleyball team placed fourth in 2009 in Class 1A.

The previous record for the most kills in a state tournament match was 27 by Lanark Eastland's Makenzie Fink in last year' semifinal. Megan Schlechte's previous high was 21. Brittany Stribling of A-C Central held the previous record for the most assists with 44 set in the 2008 quarterfinals.

Other records broken were most kills in a match by one team as WSS had 55, breaking the previous record of 50 set in 2008 by A-C Central. WSS also set the team record for the most assists with 52, breaking the previous record of 47 by the 2008 A-C Central team. 

WSS and Durand combined for two records in most assists in one match with 83. The previous record was 76 by Lanark Eastland and WSS last year. The two teams combined for a record 87 kills, again breaking the record from last year's WSS vs. Lanark Eastland match of 84. 

Reception

Win or lose Saturday, a reception for the Hatchets is to be at approximately 4:30 p.m. 

The team is to have a firetruck parade through Windsor, Stewardson and Strasburg prior to the reception. 

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Sports writer

Mike Monahan covers area sports for the JG-TC.

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