WSS volleyball

Pictured is the WSS volleyball team that qualified for the Class 1A state tournament. In front, Lainee Turner, Martina Gratz, Anna Schlechte, Mackenzie Reed, Mikayla Haddock, Taylor Rentfro, Hannah Hayes, Mackenzi Tabbert and Carson Cole. In back, assistant coach Danny Baker, head coach Rhonda Schlechte, Maria Gentry, Calla Roney, Mackenzee Reynolds, Megan Schlechte, Claire Moomaw, Kasey Bean, Mackenzie Brown, assistant coach Marsha Friedrich and assistant coach Nick Hartke.

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STRASBURG -- WSS is hoping that last year's experience at the Illinois High School Association Class 1A state volleyball tournament will be an advantage Friday when the Hatchets face off against Durand, a team that had never won a supersectional until Saturday as the Lady Bulldogs are making their inaugural trip to Illinois State University's Redbird Arena. The semifinal match is to start at 10:30 a.m.

WSS is 33-6, while Durand is 34-1-1. The winner advances to Saturday's state championship at 10:30 a.m. against the winner of the 9 a.m. match Friday when Payson-Seymour (39-1) faces another team that is making its first trip in Newark (34-4).

"I hope it is a big advantage," said WSS coach Ronda Schlechte of having the experience. "You see really good athletes that crumble at the pressure and some that withstand the pressure. You never know until you get there."

There was a pep rally for WSS Wednesday at Stewardson-Strasburg and the team got an escort out of Windsor as they headed off to state after a practice at Windsor. 

The team practices Thursday at Illinois State in their allotted time from 9:40 to 10:50 a.m. and practiced later at a gym that Illinois Elite uses.

"It is fun to be the first ones there," said Schlechte of being at Redbird Arena, which they were last year. "It is surreal to how the girls are going to react from it. There is a lot of oohing and awing and they stand there silent and taking it all in. This year we are the practicing second and so we will watch Durand as we don't know anything about them."

Durand has won 11 straight and its only loss was to Class 1A Stockton Oct.; 14 in the Lanark Eastland Tournament 25-22, 25-17. The Lady Bulldogs beat Stockton 25-22 in both sets to start the season. The one tie was in the Galena Tournament to Class 2A Port Byron Riverdale. 

Durand is coached by Molly Kelsey, who is in her sixth year with a 134-46-6 record. 

"The girls are really pumped," said Schlechte. "We had more of a fun practice Monday and Tuesday we worked hard and worked on our hitting more. We continue to try and keep our block."

Durand has an enrollment of 152 and is in the Northwest Upstate Illinois Conference. The Lady Bulldogs have only had six three-set matches and have three seniors on the team, Katelyn Kalina, Alyssa Brauer and Kaite Asche. 

The Lady Bulldogs knocked off the defending state champions, West Prairie 25-17, 25-21 to win the Midland supersectional, while WSS beat Cobden 25-18, 25-10 to win the South Central supersectional.

McKenzie Damon, a junior, leads the team in kills with an average of 3.9, while Ashe is at 3.8. Asche is tops in blocks with an average of 1.3 and Marissa Kelsey is tops in aces at 0.4 and is also the setter averaging 10.2 per set. Damon is the team leader in digs with 2.9. 

WSS has four seniors on the team, Mikayla Haddock, Maria Gentry, Kasey Bean and Taylor Rentfro. Megan Schlechte, a junior, leads in kills (5.4), aces (0.6) and is tied for the top honors in digs with Haddock in digs with 3.4 per set. Junior Makenzi Tabbert averages 9.4 assists per set.

"I am hoping our passing is on and our serve receive is flawless," said Schlechte. "Once you have that we can get our sets up and our hits down. We have been working on putting up big blocks as well and working around their block."

The Hatchets have had 12 three-set matches and are 9-3. WSS losses have been to Indianapolis Bishop Chatard (would be a Class 3A team if in Illinois), Class 2A St. Thomas More twice, Class 3A Mount Zion twice and Class 4A Glenbard West.

"I am glad we had some of those losses," said Schlechte. "It give us perspective on what we need to work on. I felt we would get better by playing that competition level and we competed well."

Durand averages 12.2 kills per set, which is the same as WSS. The Lady Bulldogs have the advantage in blocks 3.3 to 1.9, while the Hatchets have the advantage in digs 15.7 to 12.5. WSS also has the advantage in aces 2.1 to 1.7. WSS also has the advantage in assists 11.2 to 10.7.

"I fee like we have more strengths throughout the team here lately then what we did," said Schlechte. "I feel like we are playing more as a team now. We are also not rotating as much. Everyone knows their role and I think everyone is just comfortable. You want to be playing better at the end of the season than at the beginning of the season and hopefully we are playing better ball now."

There is no school Friday and there is a fan bus.

"The fans are very loyal to us," said Schlechte. "We have been playing really well lately."

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Sports writer

Mike Monahan covers area sports for the JG-TC.

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