FARMER CITY, Ill. -- After the Lady Knights' season concluded at the Farmer City Blue Ridge Regional championship match, some of their fans stayed in the gymnasium.
As Kasey Sedberry and Courtney Cox were the first Blue Ridge players to come out of the locker room, the fans applauded a team that finished the season with a 23-8 record.
"I’m proud of my team, especially with the blend of youth this season," Blue Ridge coach Evan Miles said. "Good veteran leadership. [To go] 23-8 [with] three seniors, two freshman starters and a lot of sophomores, that’s very good. It’s encouraging."
Within the second game, it looked like the season would extend to the Mount Pulaski Sectional, as the Lady Knights won the first game and led the second one 16-10. However, the Lady Toppers overcame the deficit to earn a trip to sectionals.
"That’s just how it works sometimes," Miles said. "I thought we played well, especially in the first and second set. We had our opportunities to close out those two [other] sets. I think we should have; there were just a couple of hitting errors and service errors down the stretch. We just let them slowly back into it, creep back into it."
After Mount Pulaski tied the game at 6-6, the Lady Knights went on a 9-2 run to go up 15-8. Two hitting errors, the last of which was committed by Allison Hickey, started the run and gave Blue Ridge an 8-6 lead.
Chandler Morrow (pictured below in blue) gave the Lady Knights a 13-8 lead with a serve. Morrow finished the match with 11 points and one ace.
After Rachel Durchholz gave Mount Pulaski a side-out point to make the score 21-18, Gabby Pearl responded with a left-handed spike on the right side to give Blue Ridge a 22-18 lead. Pearl (pictured below) led her team with 3.5 blocks.
Kaitlyn Zelhart got the next point for the Lady Knights with a spike of her own that deflected off a Lady Topper. From there, Blue Ridge scored the final two points of the first game via hitting errors by Hickey and Durchholz, respectively.
"The first set, [there was] great energy," Miles said. "We were catching them off balance."
In the second game, the Lady Knights fell behind 3-0. Hickey got Mount Pulaski's first point with a spike and the next two via serves.
However, Blue Ridge responded with a 6-1 run. After an Amber Blazek serving error, Kaitlyn Zelhart tied the game at 4-4 with two spikes, the second of which Breanna Howe returned with a hit that landed out of bounds.
Schrock (pictured below) and Pearl were at the net for the block on the next play, giving the Lady Knights a 5-4 lead.
The Lady Toppers tied the game at 10-10 with a hit by Jessica Awe. Blue Ridge scored six unanswered points from there, starting with a hit by Awe that went out of bounds.
Morrow gave the Lady Knights a two-point lead via serve and Blazek (pictured below) got the next point with a diagonal spike that barely landed in bounds on the right side.
After the 6-0 run, Kaitlyn Zelhart started the Mount Pulaski rally with a hit that landed out of bounds on the right side. The Lady Toppers went on to score seven of the next eight points.
Hickey tied the second game at 17-17 with a block. On the ensuing play, Schrock hit the ball out of bounds on the left side to give Mount Pulaski the lead.
The Lady Toppers' next lead was 24-23, the 24th point scored on a Whitney Nichols serve. After Nichols gave Blue Ridge its 24th point with a serving error, Durchholz scored the go-ahead point for Mount Pulaski with a tap shot that deflected off Blazek.
Awe finished the second game with a serve.
"I wouldn’t say we lost our composure, but we started doing little things that kind of manifest themselves," Miles said. "Then we started thinking about it, rather than playing in the game. You have it creeping in your mind. [Mount Pulaski's] a very good team. Talent-wise, they’re pretty good. They never wavered. They didn’t panic or freak out or anything, so you have to credit them for that."
In the third game, the Lady Toppers took a 5-0 lead. Hickey gave Mount Pulaski its second point via serve and Durchholz its fourth point via block.
The fifth point was scored by Howe, whose hit beat a diving Jordan Wheeler.
"Once it went to set three, I was, not real nervous, but it’s never good when you should close it in two," Miles said.
However, Blue Ridge brought the score to within one point, as Wheeler (pictured above) delivered a serve that resulted in a Durchholz hitting error and cut the Lady Knights' deficit to 10-9.
A service ace by Blazek cut the Lady Toppers' lead to 15-14 before Mount Pulaski called a timeout.
However, the Lady Toppers went on a 10-3 run after the timeout, including a 7-1 run to end the game and the match. The 25th point was scored when Blazek hit a diagonal shot that barely sailed out of bounds on the right side.
"When we almost caught them in the third set and they called a timeout, I thought we were getting our momentum," Miles said. "We could see a couple of their girls with their heads down. We just couldn’t tie it and overtake them afterwards, and that was the frustrating part."
Kaitlyn Zelhart finished the match with 15 kills, one ace and six service points. Emily Zelhart (pictured below) had 22 assists and Wheeler was credited with 15 digs.
With Wheeler, Kaitlyn Zelhart and Sedberry the only seniors leaving for college after the 2011-12 school year, Miles said next year's team could have some potential.
"It’s going to suck losing those three seniors by any means, especially their leadership," Miles said. "They’re good girls and are very skilled. It’ll be interesting to see who takes that leadership role. It might be a combination of players next year. A lot of those younger players have varsity experience, which will go into next year. Also, they see what it takes and what you have to do to be good at a high level."
As for the Lady Toppers, they will play in the Mount Pulaski Sectional semifinals on Tuesday. They will face Broadlands Heritage, who defeated Chrisman 25-21, 26-24 in the Chrisman Regional.