NORMAL — Ending the season on a winning note was important for the Central Cougars, especially their seven seniors.
The Cougars dispatched the Chicago Payton Grizzlies 25-20, 25-13 on Saturday in the third-place match of the Class 3A state volleyball tournament.
The Cougars finished with a 36-6 record.
"It's obviously not the trophy we wanted, but going out with a win is always better than going out with a loss," Central senior middle hitter Maddie Timmermann said. "It lets us leave with smiles on our faces. Third place is awesome."
The Cougars were able to rebound from a 25-20, 25-10 loss to Wheaton St. Francis on Friday night.
The Spartans defeated LaSalle-Peru 25-19, 25-7 for their 10th state championship on Saturday.
"It's a hard game to play," senior outside hitter Makenzie Jackson said. "We're not playing for No. 1, we're playing for No. 3, but everybody wanted to go out with a win and they played their hearts out."
The Cougars will be welcomed back to Clinton County with a parade at 3 p.m. Sunday, followed by an assembly at the school.
Central is bringing a trophy home for the third time in the last four years. It placed second in 2010 and third in 2011 in Class 2A.
"It feels great, it always does," Cook said of placing in the state tournament. "This team put in a lot of work and effort. We took a good slapping last night and came back tough today, and that's exactly what we had to do. This whole team played pretty solid throughout the year."
The Cougars won for the 20th time in their last 21 matches this season.
"It was just chemistry," senior outside hitter Lydia Rehkemper said. "We just all came together. We knew that we wanted to finish out this season."
The Maryville University-bound Timmermann led the Cougars with 10 kills, four blocks and 12 service points.
Senior setter Torre Kohremann had nine assists and senior setter Lauren Willis had eight assists, while senior libero Taylor Rakers had 10 digs.
The Grizzlies (27-13) placed fourth for the third time in the last six years.
"I'm going to set a state record for coming down here and finishing fourth as many times as humanly possible," Payton coach Joel Anderson joked. "I am going to real honest. I don't mind the fourth-place trophy because that means we got here. We didn't lose first, second or third, we won fourth. Nobody expected that we would get here this year.
"We're still a pretty young team. Our top player sitting here is a sophomore, so we have a lot to look forward to."
Olivia Rozmus, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, had nine kills to pace the Grizzlies.
"She can reach all the way to the top of Redbird Arena," Anderson said of Rozmus' potential. "She started playing volleyball four years ago, and she couldn't walk and chew gum and she had never been anything but the middle.
"Now she's a six-rotation player. You didn't see it this weekend, but she can hit it just as hard out of the back row as the front. She has a great, great future ahead of her."
The Cougars charged out to a 9-4 lead in the first set, but the Grizzles came back to take an 11-10 lead.
A three-point service run by Jackson enabled the Cougars to go up 14-11, and a violation for four hits by the Grizzlies enabled them to increase that advantage to 21-15.
A service error followed up by an attack error enabled the Cougars to take a 24-19 lead.
A back-row kill by Timmermann secured the 25th point.
Timmermann had two early kills in leading the Cougars out to a 7-2 lead in the second set.
Back-to-back kills by Rehkemper put the Cougars ahead 11-4.
Sophomore Kendra Wilken got into the act with a kill to trigger a four-point run that gave the Cougars a 19-7 lead.
Trailing 24-10, the Grizzlies survived three match points before an attack error enabled the Cougars to celebrate.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.