NORMAL — The Valmeyer Pirates had a hard time shaking the first-time jitters.
Allison Hickey had seven kills and Erika Lever had six kills as the Mount Pulaski Toppers beat the Pirates 25-8, 25-16 Friday in the semifinal round of the Class 1A State Volleyball Tournament.
The Pirates were making their school's first appearance in the state tournament in a team sport.
"It think we definitely came out with some first-game jitters," Valmeyer coach Jenny Kohnz said. "It's our first trip up here, and we practiced here yesterday and felt pretty comfortable, but we made some mistakes early on and got a little nervous."
The Pirates (28-10) will play either Rockford Keith Country Day (31-7) or Kansas (35-2) at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Redbird Arena in Normal in the Class 1A third-place game.
The Toppers (33-2), who placed second in the state last year, will play in the championship match at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
The Pirates were led by Paige Whipple with five kills and Andrea Inman with four kills.
The Pirates fell behind 6-1 in the first game, and they could never recover. They committed 10 attack errors in the first game.
"Me and Andi have played together for seven years now, and we've never experienced anything like this," Whipple said. "It didn't hit me until we walked into that tunnel and I saw everybody out there as we ran out. I think we all had nerves, but in the second game after we got those nerves out, we played more of our game."
Brittany Killy, Miranda Kaufmann and Inman all had kills in leading the Pirates out to a 7-3 lead in the second game.
The Toppers tied the game at 9-9 and went up 10-9 on an attack error by the Pirates.
A kill by Whipple tied the score at 10-10 and a couple of service points from Morgan Redohl put the Pirates back up 12-10.
The Toppers fought back to go ahead 14-12. They held the lead the rest of the way.
"Between the first and second game, we talked and I said, 'You're playing like you're scared to lose instead of playing to win. Go out there and give them a good match,"' Kohnz said. "And, we did. We played a lot stronger the second game. We played neck- and-neck for a while, and just kind of lost our steam at the end."
The Toppers got a block from Whitney Nichols and then a kill from Hickey to stretch their lead to 23-15.
The final two points of the match came on aces by Nichols.
The Toppers had nine service aces in the match.
"Our serve receive fell apart, which has really been something that has been a strong suit for us this season," Kohnz said. "I think the depth perception is a little harder. We're not used to playing in an arena like that. The markings on the court are different. That's not an excuse, but it's something we had to adjust to."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.