FARMER CITY, Ill. -- The last time Blue Ridge's volleyball team played, they lost in the regional final to eventual Class 1A state champion Heyworth.
On Saturday, the high-spirited Lady Knights started the season with a playoff-like atmosphere. They hosted the Blue Ridge Invitational.
For coach Evan Miles, this was an opportunity for the younger Blue Ridge players to get a feel for what it is like to play in a tournament atmosphere.
"We have all four levels contributing [on the varsity team]," Miles said. "I think it's a good tournament to have, especially with these younger girls early on, to play in that type of atmosphere where they get the jitters out so they'll help us out during conference time, and hopefully the postseason."
In the must-win second set, Blue Ridge trailed only once -- 2-1. Then Jacksonville State-bound senior Kaitlyn Zelhart floated the ball with a soft touch over the net past two Woodland players.
She gave the Lady Knights a 4-3 lead with a spike from Blue Ridge's right side of the net to the middle of the Woodland side. From there, the Lady Knights never trailed in the second set, getting awarded the 25th point when Woodland's Taylor Starkey was involved in an illegal substitution.
In the first set, Blue Ridge's biggest lead was 9-5, the ninth score as the result of a block by freshman Gabby
However, Woodland scored six unanswered points to make the score 11-9. From there, Blue Ridge had leads of 19-17 and 21-20, the latter achieved via sophomore Amber Blazek's (pictured below on left) two-handed touch hit over the net.
The Warriors regained the lead at 23-21 via two straight serves by Walker and never looked back in the first set.
"I knew we'd be up and down and inconsistent at times, but at times I thought we played really well, at a really high level, especially on the second set in this championship match," Miles said. "There's things, definitely, we can work on, but overall, I'm pleased. It's not the result we wanted, but not bad overall."
Blazek finished the match with 11 points, two aces and one block. Kaitlyn Zelhart recorded 12 kills, nine points, four aces, 26 digs and one block.
Wheeler finished with five kills, 13 digs and two blocks. Junior Chandler Morrow (pictured below) had 11 digs while Pearl recorded one block.
In this joust, it was the Knights in blue that came out on top.
Blue Ridge raced out to an 8-2 lead in the first set thanks in part to a Kaitlyn Zelhart block and a Blazek serve.
Blue Ridge's 25th point of the first set had a family connection, as Kaitlyn Zelhart set up her little sister, Emily, for the set-clinching spike.
In the second set, Calvary never truly contended, as the Blue Ridge Lady Knights took a 9-0 lead. During that run, Emily Zelhart scored four consecutive points via serve.
The match-clinching point occurred when Calvary Christian's Marissa Richards failed to hit the ball over the net.
Kaitlyn Zelhart scored seven kills, five digs and two solo blocks. Emily Zelhart finished the match with eight points and four aces.
Wheeler recorded four kills and a solo block. Blazek had four kills as well while Pearl (pictured below)scored a solo block while Schrock recorded nine points and two aces.
The 3-1 Lady Knights will travel to Maroa-Forsyth this upcoming Thursday. Then they'll start Heart of Illinois Conference play at Ridgeview the following Tuesday.
"We'll start getting the meat and potatoes in our schedule from there," Miles said.