The Highland High volleyball team opened the postseason with a dominant 25-13, 25-20 victory over Effingham on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in the semifinal of the IHSA Class 3A Jacksonville Regional.
But on Thursday, the Lady Bulldogs’ season came to an end just short of a regional championship as the No. 2 Taylorville Tornadoes edged Highland, 25-22, 26-24, to win the title.
Highland finished the season with a solid 26-9-1 record and a Mississippi Valley Conference championship after sweeping the league with an unblemished 10-0 record.
Taylorville (27-10) lost in straight sets to Mount Zion in the semifinal of the Effingham Sectional on Monday.
HHS loses to Taylorville
The Lady Bulldogs battled toe to toe with the Tornadoes but could not quite pull out either game at the end.
“This definitely wasn’t the way we wanted the season to end, but I’m so grateful to be able to play for Coach Hagarty and with this team,” said junior middle hitter Claire Diercks, who led Highland with seven kills and also added one ace “Taylorville had a solid block on us and some good hitters, but we did, too, and it just came down to the small errors. Throughout the match, we were never too far down, but in the end, they beat us by a few points.”
Sophomore setter Megan Vidmar dished out a team-high 19 assists, while junior outside hitter Jennessa Kimmle and senior right-side hitter Megan Sands tied for first on the team with nine digs each. Kimmle also produced four kills and one ace, and Sands also supplied three kills, one solo block and one assist.
Also providing stats for the Lady Bulldogs were junior libero Emmy Nyquist with six digs and one ace, sophomore middle hitter Sydney Coker with three kills, junior outside hitter Megan Ramsey with two kills and four digs, and junior right-side hitter Abby Beyer with one ace.
HHS beats Effingham
The Lady Bulldogs took charge early and dominated the first game against the Flaming Hearts. Highland then staved off a bit of a stiffer test in game two from Effingham to sweep the match in straight sets.
“Our team really pulled together tonight to earn our win against Effingham,” said Diercks, who pounded out match-high eight kills to go along with five digs and one solo block. “Our coaches continue to have faith in us and that definitely builds team confidence. When our passes are on, we are close to unstoppable with our quick offense.”
Nyquist topped the Lady Bulldogs with 10 digs and shared team honors in aces with Vidmar after each served up a pair of them. Vidmar also dished out a match-best 20 assists and added four digs.
Also supplying production in the playoff victory for Highland were Kimmle with five kills and three digs, Ramsey with three kills, four digs and one ace, Sands with three kills, and four digs, and Coker with two kills
Highland coach Katelyn Hagarty said she really enjoyed her first season at the helm for the Lady Bulldogs.
“The players have be absolutely wonderful and so receptive to me,” she said. “I obviously didn’t want our post-season run to end, but I’m looking forward to some downtime with my boys (two sons). Thanks for all the support from my family and friends. It’s been fun, and I am already looking forwards to next season.”
Next year holds a lot of potential for Highland, which only loses two seniors — Sands and Morgan Mesle. So, the Lady Bulldogs should bring back the bulk of their talent next fall.
“We have many returning players next year and hope to continue to grow based off of this year’s success,” Hagarty said. “We have areas on which we can improve, and I am going to continue to push my players to work hard and put the best team out there.”
Diercks said the team has improved tremendously from the beginning of the season.
“Since most of the members will be returning next year, I think that will definitely help us out next season,” she said. “Ending my junior season by winning the conference undefeated is huge for us as a team and an amazing experience. We have every reason to be proud. I am very ready for my senior volleyball season and hoping to make it even farther in postseason with a better, stronger team.”