Two Clinton County high schools located just 1.5 miles apart have combined for 10 state volleyball championships, including seven by the Mater Dei Knights.
The Central Cougars own three more state titles, but all that impressive hardware won't keep these longtime rivals and two of the state's top volleyball programs from a potential meeting in the regional.
Mater Dei (32-3) is the top seed at the Class 3A Triad Regional and Central (30-5) is No. 2.
Neither coach would blame the Illinois High School Association, which likes to stress geography when creating playoff brackets.
"It would be nice if they took into account the talent that they're putting into specific regionals, but one way or another you're going to face each other more at some point," Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers said.
"I try not to complain about it too much because you look around the state and there's other teams running into each other every year that probably deserve to be up at state. I'd like to think that us and Central are in that same discussion."
Central coach Jim Cook is prepared to deal with brackets as issued, but admits the fierce rivalry between the schools and having so much at stake have to be major factors.
"It's crazy, but it is what it is and we've got to deal with it," said Cook, whose team lost to Mater Dei in the regional last season. "I think all they really look at on the state level is regional representation and not who can compete the best. We've dealt with this forever."
Highland and Triad would love to post an upset here, but given Mater Dei and Central's past playoff history it would seem to be a tall order.
Mater Dei is coming off a second-place finish at the Quincy Notre Dame tournament over the weekend. The Knights' only loss was to Lafayette from St. Louis, the nation's 12th-ranked team.
Mater Dei's only other losses this season were to St. Louis teams Nerinx Hall and St. Joseph's Academy. The Knights knocked off Central on Sept. 21, winning 25-27, 25-15, 25-23.
"It was a pretty emotional night for everyone," Cook said. "We played OK, but that was about it. We're playing much, much better right now."
Mater Dei's balanced lineup includes Elle Gebke (103 kills, 147 digs), Tori Johnson (92 kills), Avoynna Kampwerth (75 kills, 61 blocks) and setters Lexi Kohnen (197 assists) and Madison Haake (201 assists).
Rakers said Johnson is dealing with a concussion and will be reevaluated Monday.
The Knights lost to Columbia in the Murphysboro Sectional championship last season.
Central's top player is senior Maryville University recruit Maddie Timmermann (352 kills, 172 blocks).
The Cougars, who face Triad in the semifinals, finished second in state in 2006 and 2010 and third in 1999 and 2011.
"I think we're playing really well right now," said Cook, whose team has won 14 straight matches since an Oct. 5 loss to Ursuline at the Belleville East Tournament. "I think we're in a pretty nice position, but Mater Dei's ranked No. 1 for a reason."
Cook said Maisie Kampwerth's game has really progressed and she is second on the team with 149 kills and third in blocks with 101. Lydia Rehkemper adds 132 kills and Makenzie Jackson has 100, and Kendra Wilken has 120 blocks.
"What's helping us right now is when we need to go to people other than Maddie, they're hitting the ball and hitting it consistently in," Cook said.
3A Columbia Regional
Althoff's 13-18 record may not seem fitting for a No. 1 seed, but the degree of schedule difficulty helped the battle-tested Crusaders earn the top spot. Althoff also knocked off No. 2 seed Columbia twice in straight sets this season.
Columbia upset Mater Dei in the sectional last year before losing to Jacksonville in the super-sectional.
Althoff coach Sara Thomas was impressed with her team's recent victory over Incarnate Word.
"We didn't just win, the girls played really well and they're excited," said Thomas, whose team had lost to Mater Dei, O'Fallon and Villa Duchesne before that win. "They're just ready for playoffs to start. We've got our setter and attackers connecting really well and our defense is playing really scrappy."
Althoff has firepower up front led by Briana Nowak (148 kills), Allana Bramwell (136 kills) and Megan Seibel (113 kills). Libero Jade Sanlin has been solid defensively and setter Rachel Kaltwasser averages 6.5 assists.
Columbia took a big hit because of graduation, but several talented players remain from its super-sectional qualifier. There also has been an influx of young talent and the Eagles played a more difficult schedule.
The Eagles' top threat is junior Megan Huffman (249 kills, 5.6 assists per match, 26 service aces). Other top players include freshman Colene Hamilton (158 kills), junior Jordan Rippelmeyer (146 kills) and freshman Kelly Metter (138 kills, 48 blocks).