If anyone is still doubting that the Marquette Academy volleyball program is on top of its game these days, they haven’t heard about the step-up weekend the Crusaders just had in Harvard.
Coach Mindy McConnaughhay’s young squad took on the bigger-school field there and came away from the round robin with a 4-1 mark on the day. That – and their Monday night victory over Class 2A Hall in their home Bader Gym – helped lift MA’s record to a sparkling 18-3.
“It was a long day but a very good day for us,” said McConnaughhay. “They were five matches, and there was no break. It was 8 (a.m.), 9, 10, 11 and 12, so they were all exhausted, but they all played so well. ... I’m really pleased with the way we’re playing right now.”
The red-hot locals were predictably successful against 1A schools South Beloit and Alden-Hebron, but also bested 3A Harvard and 4A Round Lake, falling only to 3A Vernon Hills.
Without ace libero Lindsey Kaufmann, who was away at the wedding of two former MA athletic standouts, her sister Kendall and Drew Nelson, the Cru roster that sports only one senior (Kelsey Quinn) worked its way through the day with an even younger lineup than normal.
According to McConnaughhay, four sophomores – Maera Jimenez, Maisie Lyons and twins Emma and Nora Rinearson – joined juniors Eva McCallum and Kaylee Killelea and two fellow sophs, Lilly Craig and Mary Lechtenberg, plus freshman Makayla Backos, in the lineup and were outstanding in the back row in Kaufmann’s stead.
“I told the girls we were going to mix things up, people were going to play in different spots, players might sit a game to give them a break,” McConnaughhay said. “We just threw everyone everywhere, and they adapted so very well.
“I really think we’re starting to find a bit of a groove. And the best thing about it and this group is that every night it’s a different person stepping up. Mary would have a huge game, then Eva would have a huge game, and then Lilly, then Makayla. It’s nice to see that it’s different kids every night.”
Earlville facing postseason preview Friday?
Regular-season success is no guarantee of the same in the postseason, so Marquette is not the only stellar team with high expectations when the postseason begins Oct. 25 at the Class 1A Serena Sectional.
The Earlville Raiders upped their mark to a shiny 14-3 heading into Tuesday night’s Little Ten Conference meeting with Leland, a nonconference 25-11, 25-7 win over Midland on Monday night giving them their eighth win in their past nine matches.
“Everything is working right now, and the girls are working hard to get even better,” Earlville coach Tonya Scherer said. “We serve pretty tough, there’s our defense, there’s our offense. I have some bench players who can jump in at any time and add to our team, and if there’s an aspect of our game that’s off a little bit, we compensate by doing something else a little better until we fix it and get back on track.
“They’re an athletic, hardworking and competitive group of girls that work so well together from playing together for so long, going back to grade school. They’re exciting to watch. It’s fun.”
That lone loss in those nine meetings was to Indian Creek, which, along with Marquette, Newark, Woodland and several others, figures to offer challenges for regional and sectional trophies.
Also in that field is Yorkville Christian, a young 16-0 squad that on Friday will host Earlville in what is certain to be a match with major impact on postseason seedings.
“We play Leland (Tuesday), so we’ll have two days to get ready for them,” Scherer said. “We also have a couple of tough tournaments, at Plano on Oct. 16 and then at Stillman Valley, right before regionals start. There’s always good competition there, and they will have us ready.
“But Friday will be a big match for us.”
Fieldcrest learning from its few losses
The Fieldcrest volleyball program is shining right now in the tough Heart of Illinois Conference, losing only to powerful Eureka and Tri-Valley in the league and to Roanoke-Benson in a nonconference matchup. Otherwise, the Knights are clean with a 16-3 record.
There are some other tough matches coming up for them, including El Paso-Gridley on Tuesday night and a home meeting with Marquette on Monday before getting into the McLean County Tournament on Oct. 19. They are assigned to the Manteno Sectional complex with, among others, Tri-Valley.
“I’m pleased with where we are now. Things are clicking,” said Fieldcrest coach Cathy Sanders. “Our losses were to good teams, teams that have more experience playing together than we do. That makes a difference. I feel we’ve used the first half of the season getting to know each other, and we’re making progress. I like where we are because each one of those has made us a better team.
“It’s about us coming together and getting experience playing together right now. That’s what we’re working on, a cohesiveness that will help us play well together on the court. So far, it’s working.”