Team speed and execution has helped the Edwardsville volleyball team punch above its weight class all season long.
But the Tigers weren’t quick enough to hit around a pair of towering Division I college prospects stationed at Normal’s net in the Chatham Glenwood 4A Sectional championship match Thursday. The Ironmen used their superior size to capture their fourth straight sectional title with a 25-15, 25-16 win over Edwardsville.
“We played a third of our season in Chicago, so we’re always outsized,” said Edwardsville coach Jami Parker. “Our girls are quick and work together well so they can overcome size. But we took a lot of shots tonight that didn’t quite fall.”
Normal 6-foot senior Rachel Maguire, who has committed to Southern Illinois University Carbondale, had a match-high eight kills while 6-3 junior Grace Cleveland, a Purdue prospect, added four kills and three blocks.
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The combo frustrated the Tigers, who never got their transition game working for them. Only once in the match could string together more than two points in a row.
“If we’re not connecting as well or getting as good of passes or as good of sets, then it just doesn’t work right,” said Edwardsville junior Rachel Pranger. “They are a great team with amazing hitters.”
Normal will enjoy a homecourt advantage going forward. The Ironmen play host to their own super-sectional match Saturday against Minooka, champions of of the Romeoville Sectional. The next step would be the state tournament at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University, just seven miles down Old U.S. Route 66.
Its string of postseason success was a factor, Normal coach Christine Konopasek said.
“Our girls have, the last few years, had good postseason runs so they know how to handle themselves,” she said. “They stayed very composed and I think it showed with one of the most consistent matches we’ve played all year.”
Edwardsville, which advanced to the sectional final with a three-set slugfest against Southwestern Conference rival O’Fallon on Tuesday, will lose just two seniors from a 31-7 team.
Edwardsville took a 7-4 lead in the first set, but a block by Maguire against Tigers freshman outside hitter Maria Smith triggered an 8-2 run that put Normal ahead permanently.
A pair of kills by Pranger put Edwardsville within three, but Normal closed with an eight-point run.
“They are quick, we didn’t transition well and we had a lot of balls that dropped close to the lines. We just couldn’t get them in,” Parker said. “We took a lot of good shots early that just didn’t quite make it. That’s something you can’t do against a good team. You have to be clean from front to back and it didn’t happen.”
The Ironmen rallied ahead 20-13 in the second set when a Rachel Verdun kill gave Edwardsville the apparent sideout. But the Tigers were called on a net violation and Normal was able to clinch the set and match on a 5-2 run.
Pranger led the Tigers with seven kills and a pair of blocks. Kate Martin had six kills and eight digs, Smith had five kills, Megan Woll had nine digs and Rachel Verdun had a block and 15 assists.
MaKenna Barnhart led Normal with 12 digs and Jamie Vasilou had nine assists with two service aces.