NORMAL — Sharing the experience of Valmeyer's first trip to the state tournament with her former coach and mentor means everything to Pirates coach Jenny Kohnz.
Kohnz's assistant coach is former longtime Pirates coach Karla Bivins.
"When we went to the sectional championship last Thursday, my speech was: 'You are playing in a game that I never got to play in as a player. I never made it to a sectional championship. I never got to do that for my coach,"' Kohnz said. "Then I told the girls., 'I really hope you can do that tonight, so I can do that for my coach.' The girls were like, 'We will.' And, they did.
"Getting to coach with her is phenomenal, and getting to share something like this with her is like a dream come true."
Kohnz's senior season with the Pirates was marred by the Great Flood of 1993, which destroyed the high school along with most of the town.
"When you think about it, we didn't have a school, we didn't have a town," Kohnz said. "That happened in the beginning of August and the next week volleyball practice was starting and they made sure that we found a place."
Kohnz said she gotten some reminders of those days as the Pirates have prepared to play Mount Pulaski in the semifinal round of the Class 1A State Volleyball Tournament.
"Karla and I got a special e-mail this week from Jim McNulty, a volleyball official," Kohnz said. "He refereed all of our games for free that year. He sent us the nicest e-mail saying, 'You know what, it couldn't happen to two better people."'
The Pirates are a tight-knit group whose closeness extends beyond the two coaches.
"We're not a volleyball team, we're a family," senior outside hitter Andi Inman said. "We're all sisters with each other and we have each other's back 100 percent of the time."
Inman and fellow senior Paige Whipple lead the Pirates' net attack.
Sophomore Tiffani Brewer also lends a hand at the net, averaging about three kills per match.
"She doesn't get a lot of attacks every game, but in the playoffs, she's been as solid as nails," Kohnz said. "She is getting some key kills at key times."
Sophomore setter Miranda Kaufmann has gotten better as the season has progressed. Being 5-foot-8 enables Kaufmann to have a presence at the net.
"She's gotten more confidence," Kohnz said. "At the beginning of the season, she was a little scared to do stuff, but she's doing really well."
Kohnz said another sophomore, 4-foot-11 libero Morgan Redohl, also is playing with a lot of confidence.
The Pirates have only three seniors with Brittany Killy joining Whipple and Inman. Killy returned to volleyball for her senior season after sitting out the past two seasons.
"I wish I would have had her all four years," Kohnz said.
Experience is one thing that Kohnz and Bivins can't coach.
The Pirates will be making their first state tournament appearance, while their opponent, Mount Pulaski, will be making its 14 state tournament appearance, including its third in its last four years.
The Toppers return every player from a squad that placed second in the state last year, falling 25-16, 25-20 to Dakota in the title match.
"That's going to be hard," Kohnz said. "They've definitely got the experience of being up to state. We're going to try to be as prepared as we can fundamentally."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.