NORMAL — WSS, making its first appearance as the sports co-op of Windsor and Stewardson-Strasburg in the Illinois High School Association Class 1A state volleyball championship, fell to a stronger Payson-Seymour team Saturday at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University 25-12, 27-25.
"That is definitely the strongest, fastest team we have played this season and I want to say almost the last two seasons," said WSS coach Ronda Schlechte. Their attack was powerful and they could get around our block and we couldn't get around them. Our defense was never in the right spot for their hits. They were very smart as far as where they placed their volleyballs. I feel like they kept us out of system most of the time, which kind of hurt us as far as getting some good attacks going."
In the second set, the Hatchets used a 7-0 run to take their first lead of the entire match. Mackenzi Tabbert served six straight points after a kill by Megan Schlechte. Tabbert's run included the only aces of the match for WSS. The Hatchets led 10-4 when the Lady Indians battled back to within one. Riley Epperson, a 6-0 junior, started the run with a block, and Kamryn Flesner served four straight points, including an ace. Payson-Seymour, who finished with a record of 41-1, took its largest lead of the set, 17-14 on an ace by Cassie Eidson. The Lady Indians led 18-15 when the Hatchets used a 6-0 run to take a 21-18 advantage. The run began with two kills by Calla Roney, one off a serve by Megan Schlechte on a set from Mackenzi Tabbert. Megan Schlechte had two of her match-high six kills during the run.
"They were definitely a quick team," said WSS's Maria Gentry. "They put on a powerful defense. It was hard to find holes. It was hard to get around the block."
Payson-Seymour took a 22-21 lead and after a WSS timeout, the Hatchets tied the game with a kill by Tabbert on a set by Mikayla Haddock. The Lady Indians moved to within one point of ending the match, 24-22, on a hitting error. WSS did not go quietly as Kasey Bean, one of four seniors for the Hatchets, earned a kill, and a block by another senior, Gentry, tied the game. Bean and Gentry combined for a block to put WSS within one point of forcing a third set.
"They had a really good libero (Melina Tedrow) and their block was big," said Megan Schlechte. "It was just tough enough to hit around them. Second place feels good. It is better than last year. We are hoping to get better next year."
However, a third set was not meant to be as Hylee Schmiedeskamp's kill tied the set for the ninth time. Josie Stanford, a 6-1 senior and Arkansas State recruit, earned a kill off a set from Edison, and Schmiedeskamp ended the match with a kill off a set by Melina Tedrow.
"This is what the mental game looks like," said Payson-Seymour coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow, who guided Payson-Seymour to its first state championship in any sport at the school. "Unfortunately in the world today and in sports, I think we are missing the mental game. I think it is a huge part of it. I think these ladies would agree with me. Maybe they went kicking and screaming into mental, but I told them this is what it was going to take and they believed in us, and we created a program that was going to work and I think it worked."
Payson-Seymour led 8-5 in the first set when they went on a 7-0 run starting with a service error by WSS. Tori Schieferdecker served six consecutive points including two kills by Schmiedeskamp, who finished with 10 kills. The Hatchets were not able to get closer than eight the rest of the set.
"WSS is phenomenal," said Loos-Tedrow. "There is no doubt about it. They run a fast-paced game. They have several players that are just all-out killers. Obviously their outside (Megan Schlechte) is amazing. To be honest, we knew we could neutralize anything as long as we played our game."
The Lady Indians had 28 kills to the Hatchets' 17 and 31 digs to WSS's 21.
"We just tried to get the girls up," said coach Schlechte, speaking about the break between the two sets. "You know they were disappointed from the first set, but they were able to battle back that second set. I would have loved to have had one more opportunity to play them for a third set. Even if we came out with a loss, that was going to give us a little bit more opportunity to see what we could do with them."
As for what was the difference between the play of WSS in the first and second sets, coach Schlechte said, "I think our serving was a little more aggressive in the second set, and we ran quicker plays and were able to get in between the blocks and put the ball down. We have to start with the pass and when we had a good pass, we were able to do a little more with it."
Season and future
WSS finished 34-7 and made their second straight trip to state after placing third last year. Stew-Stras played in four previous state championships, finishing as the runner-up in 1984 and 85 in Class A in the two-class system and in Class 1A in 2013. Stew-Stras won the Class A title in 1986.
"This year we overcame a lot of injuries and played more as a team," said Tabbert, comparing last year to this year. Tabbert finished with 12 assists, while senior Taylor Rentfro was tops in digs with six. WSS's attack percentage was .029 compared to .206 for Payson-Seymour, a team that beat Class 2A teams that were in the state championship in Quincy Notre Dame (25-13, 25-20) and St. Thomas More (25-23, 27-25).
"The girls worked really well together, and we were able to overcome a lot of injuries and obstacles this season," said coach Schlechte. "They were able to make it work and they got us here. We had good crowds on both days. I will take second any day. We played scared in the first set. I am so glad they were able to come back in the second set. It is sad we had the loss, but we have to be so proud to have that second-place trophy. I am very excited to see what next season brings, because the sophomores are going to excel. We have some doing club (volleyball), and they have come a long way in the last part of the season especially."
The WSS faithful chanted "We are proud of you, we are proud of you," before the trophy presentation and some students chanted, "We'll be back."
Gentry said, "It was hard for me not to cry since it was my last match, but I am glad I get to end my senior season back here again. I would have rather lost here than lost at super-sectionals."
Bean, who had four of the last seven points on kills in Friday's semifinal win, said of Payson-Seymour, "Their middles ran a lot of slides, and so it was hard to follow them out there. It was bittersweet since it is my senior year. We got better than last year, but it was my last game playing as a Hatchet so it was special."
Megan Schlechte broke the record for the most kills in a state tournament match for not only 1A but all-time, with 29 on Friday. The previous record was 28 set by Mother McAuley's Katie Schumacher, who had 28 in the Class AA state championship against Downers Grove South.
"It feels really good to have that record, and I am glad Tabbert also set one," said Megan Schlechte. Tabbert had the most assists in a Class 1A state tournament match with 48.
Prior to the match, eight veterans from Windsor or Stewardson-Strasburg and eight from Payson or Seymour were honored on Veterans Day.
WSS received an escort around Windsor, Stewardson and Strasburg before a reception was held at Stewardson-Strasburg High School.
"We are going to lose a lot of seniors," said Tabbert. "But I think we are still going to have the same team, and we are getting Carson (Cole, who was out with an injury) back as a libero. And she is amazing and will help tremendously. Seeing (Payson-Seymour) take first place really hit me hard, so I just want to come back stronger than ever and definitely want to get first."