VALMEYER — In this village of more than 1,200 people that was forced to relocate to higher ground after the Great Flood of 1993, the girls volleyball team is getting rock-star treatment.
The Pirates are the first sports team from Valmeyer High School to earn a trip to the state tournament. They'll play Mount Pulaski at 9 a.m. Friday at the Redbird Arena in Normal in the semifinal round of the Class 1A State Volleyball Tournament.
"Just going to the local convenience store, you walk in and everybody is like, 'Congratulations, congratulations,' from people I have never talked to before," senior outside hitter Andi Inman said.
The Pirates rode on a fire truck through Valmeyer after winning the regional, the sectional and the super-sectional.
"Today my math teacher was like, 'You'll go in the press room if you win,'" senior middle hitter Paige Whipple said. "I kind of feel like a superstar."
Valmeyer coach Jenny Kohnz said little kids where lining up for photographs with the players after the sectional.
"It is like rock stars," Kohnz said. "I told the girls, 'This is not just school history, this is Valmeyer history.' I had a couple of grade school parents e-mail me to tell me, 'My daughters can't wait to play volleyball.'"
Whipple and Inman have provided the spiking power that has propelled the Pirates to the state tournament. The two have combined for 735 kills this season.
The 6-foot Whipple has a team-leading 401 kills and 227 blocks.
"She's hard to block, being left-handed," Kohnz said. "You don't see very many left-handed middle hitters. She jumps pretty high. She's very consistent, too. She doesn't make a lot of hitting errors."
Inman referred to Whipple as a "motherly figure" for the rest of the team, and Kohnz agreed.
"She's the one kid that I would let baby-sit my kids," Kohnz said. "She loves young kids and I always let her watch my kids. If we are in the middle of a practice and someone needs to get to piano lesson, she jumps and runs a kid for me. She's like part of the family."
The 5-foot-8 Inman has 334 kills and 33 blocks.
"Andi has been solid this whole year," Kohnz said. "She started as a sophomore and a junior, but she wasn't one of our go-to players. This year, she's made such a gigantic improvement. She and Paige complement each other. When one is the back row and they see a hole, after the play, they'll run up and whisper it to the other one. It was kind of cute when that happened in the super-sectional and Andi was like, 'That was my point. I told you where to put it.'"
Whipple and Inman have been best friends since the fourth grade when Inman moved to Valmeyer from West St. Louis County.
"It was pretty different coming from the city to cornfields everywhere," Inman said.
Inman's aunt worked for Whipple's mom, who is a manager at the hospital at Washington University, so when Whipple learned that a new girl was coming to town, she was a one-person welcoming party.
"The day that Andi moved here, I went over to her house and introduced myself and we've been friends ever since," Whipple said.
"We had to be friends because she was the only person I knew," Inman joked.
Whipple and Inman played multiple sports in grade school, but decided to focus on volleyball in high school.
Inman, 18, the daughter of Gail and Cory Inman, comes from a volleyball family.
Her older sister, Corine Inman, played last year at Kaskaskia College, while her older sister Kylee, is currently a senior middle hitter at Drury University.
"Her Senior Night is actually Saturday night, so me and Mom and Dad are going to miss it, but she totally understands," Inman said.
Whipple, 17, the daughter of Bruce and Toni Whipple, said her younger brother, 12-year-old Andrew, is her biggest fan.
"He's always there for me even though we fight," Whipple said. "Saturday night after the game, he was the first person besides (Inman) to come up and hug me. He gave me a kiss. He was crying. Every night he tells me how proud he is of me, and how much he looks up to me."
Andrew Whipple was a member of the Valmeyer Junior High School baseball team that placed fourth this fall in the state tournament.
"We've talked about this at many family dinners," Whipple said. "His junior high baseball team made history, too. Both of my parents' kids making history in one year is absolutely unreal for them. They couldn't have asked for a better year."
Neither could the Pirates.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.