Haylee Mathis walked through the Enlow Center doors, after school on Dec. 12, looking as busy as normal.
Her long, dark brown hair brushed the covers of the books stacked in her arms because her backpack was full — its zipper holding on tightly as her fingers squeezed the bottom of the pile of books.
She dumped her luggage into the first two rows of the bleachers, talking herself through the first sentences of a research paper she needed to write that night.
She looked the part of an everyday high school student, down to the red Mickey Mouse sweater she wore — “Today’s a Disney theme. I’m not just wearing this,” she explained of St. Anthony’s Homecoming week.
Mathis had a laundry list of things to do, including a trip to the bank and the essay, but first was a newspaper interview.
The Bulldogs’ star player this season was about a week from graduating and thought the madness of people wanting to talk to her was over when she committed to Washington State to play volleyball, ending a competitive recruitment process last year.
But she wasn’t complaining. This is how she prefers it and wanted it when the girl from Strasburg decided to go to high school at St. Anthony, instead of following the unit pipeline to Stew-Stras.
Mathis recognized some academic cuts being made at Stew-Stras and said she thought going to St. Anthony, instead, would set her up for the future.
“That was kind of scary,” Mathis said. “A lot of people think I came here because the volleyball is good. That was a perk.”
Stew-Stras finished second in Class 1A at the IHSA state tournament at Redbird Arena, while St. Anthony fell one set short in a Class 2A Super-Sectional loss.
She is reminded of both schools’ seasons every day by a neighbor in Strasburg.
Mathis and a Comets player, whom she wouldn’t name, live across from each other, where a grass lane runs along a prairie to the player’s house, opposite Mathis’ driveway.
A sign sits at the front of the lane.
“They have their nice, little ‘Stew-Stras State Bound’ or ‘Good Luck at State’ signs,” Mathis said in December. “I have to see it every morning. It’s still there.”
St. Anthony beat Stew-Stras to win the National Trail Conference tournament championship in October, coming a few weeks after a loss to the Comets that changed the outlook of the Bulldogs’ season.
The Comets came into the Enlow Center and beat the Bulldogs in the middle of the season, leading St. Anthony head coach Kristie Bailey to make a change to her team’s offensive game plan.
Bailey, who couldn’t be reached for comment on this story, made Mathis more of an outside hitter — something the Washington State commit hadn’t done.
“It’s like everything is frozen around you,” Mathis said of when she’s about to spike a ball. “I can’t hear anything unless it’s Rachel (Schmidt) yelling at me.”
Mathis said she was concerned about how the move would effect the team’s rotation, but freshman Jenna Woltman stepped in as a setter and Mathis performed well.
“Pretty much every time they gave me the ball, I got the kill,” Mathis said.
She will be a setter at Washington State, which is the position she has played since she started volleyball in third grade.
Mathis was easily entertained as a child. She said her parents could put her in front of a TV, with some toys, and she would be there for hours, but she was no less active than other kids her age.
She remembers learning how to set — actually set. In third grade, her dad told her to try tipping the ball, instead of bumping it so she could keep balls alive close to the net.
When she finally did it in a game, her coach was confused.
“We got the point and my coach said, ‘Where did you learn that?’” Mathis said. “My dad just told me to do it.”
* * *
The University of Illinois started recruiting Mathis in eighth grade, at which point she was only beginning to realize the potential she had in the sport.
She always played a level up — on the eighth grade team in seventh grade, a varsity setter as a freshman — but she said her future only became clear when volleyball started getting easier for her.
“It was like I was ready for the next step,” Mathis said. “I’m playing at this high school level, but you can tell I shouldn’t be.”
Inevitably, colleges noticed her skills, too. Recruiters and coaches filled her inbox with “thousands” of emails during her first two years of high school.
Programs nationwide wanted her: Washington State, North Carolina, South Carolina, Minnesota, Indiana State, Southern Illinois-Carbondale, and U of I are the schools Mathis could remember.
She responded to every one of them, sometimes only thanking them for their interest, because she learned it isn’t smart to eliminate schools too soon.
But it was a tricky process, as she experienced with one unnamed university who tried to force her into a commitment earlier than she wanted to make one.
“I didn’t really want to go there, but you can’t eliminate people because if your Plan A and Plan B don’t work out, you still want Plan C,” Mathis said. “It’s a risky business and not always a truthful one.”
Add expensive and misleading to the list, Mathis said.
She took college visits her junior year, which Mathis said is considered late for volleyball players, and many of them ended without a scholarship offer.
Washington State’s staff let Mathis know they wanted her from the beginning, sending a recruiter to see her before she went to Pullman, Wash. for a campus visit.
Her visit to the university was unlike any other, which sold her on the program. She remembers meeting Washington State Athletic Director Bill Moos during the trip.
“I’ve never met the man in my life,” Mathis said. “I walked into the athletic director’s office, he shook my hand and said, ‘You’re Haylee Mathis,’ and gives me a hug.”
He continued, talking about Mathis’ chicken egg business and her piano lessons like he’d known her all of her life.
“(All the colleges) pull out the bells and whistles,” Mathis said. “(Washington State) pulled out the ones that meant the most.”
Now, Mathis is packing her suitcases for the flight to Pullman on Tuesday — two for her and one for her mom.
She doesn’t know what to expect when she gets there, but she has set goals like any other forward thinker.
“I want to be a competitor and I want to play,” Mathis said. “(The Pac-12 is) the toughest conference and best conference in the nation. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.
Haylee Mathis walked through the Enlow Center doors, after school on Dec. 12, looking as busy as normal.
Newton Post 20 falls short against Breese Gray 9-3
While the District 23 title ultimately exceeded Newton Post 20’s grasp, their season will continue in Bethalto.
Newton took on Breese Post 252 Gray for the Junior Legion District 23 title as the two division winners, but Breese’s bats proved too much for Newton in an 9-3 loss for Post 20.
“The innings where they put some runs on us, we gave them some extra outs,” said Newton coach John Grunloh. “You’ve got to make the plays when you play better teams.”
Barnes' one-hitter boosts Post 120; Effingham beats Dieterich 1-0
Ryan Barnes hasn’t seen a lot of time with Effingham Post 120’s junior legion team this season, but he showed up in a big way Monday night in a 1-0 win over Dieterich Post 628.
The win kept Effingham’s season alive one more day in the Junior Legion District 23 tournament, as the post will face Salem Post 128 at 5:30 p.m. today for the district’s final spot in the divisional round. Salem Post 128 downed Mt. Vernon Post 141 1-0 in the West Division loser’s bracket, setting up the final with Effingham today.
Newton Post 20 tops Effingham Post 120 7-5 late
Most of the games at the Junior Legion District 23 tournament have seen pitching take control, but the pitchers in Sunday night's Effingham Post 120/Newton Post 20 game faced an uphill battle.
While Brock Mammoser started the game for Post 20 on the hill and struggled, he came through with the biggest hit in the game, putting Newton up for good in a 7-5 win over Effingham.
Dieterich Post 628 eliminates Teutopolis Post 924 3-2
Errors proved to be Teutpolis Post 924's undoing against Dieterich Post 628, as Dieterich's sixth-inning rally in an 3-2 win were boosted by three Teutopolis errors
To lead off the sixth, Trenton Poe reached on an error by Brock Bueker, and came around to score on an infield single by Ryan Radloff with a throwing error on Bueker. Poe was already on third when the ball went in the Teutopolis dugout, awarding Poe home to tie the game.
Bryce McClain followed with an RBI single to score Radloff and put Post 628 up for good. Dieterich scored again on a Briar Schmidt groundout where first baseman Brant Bueker tried to get an inning-ending out at second, but the throw was wild and brought home McClain.
Teutopolis, Deters down Altamont Post 512 2-0
TEUTOPOLIS — Lucas Deters didn't get a ton of run support from his Teutopolis Post 924 teammates, but he didn't need much in a complete-game shutout, and Teutopolis ended Altamont Post 512's season with a 2-0 win Sunday afternoon.
Deters' efforts at the Junior Legion District 23 tournament kept Teutopolis alive in the loser's bracket to face Dieterich Post 628 immediately following the win.
Two-out rally pushes Dieterich to win; Post 628 beats Vandalia Post 95 4-3
Down one with two outs and Vandalia Post 95 ace Zach Schaal coming in in relief, Dieterich Post 628 had a tough task to keep its season alive.
But down 3-2, Cole Hartke and Charlie Thoele laced back-to-back singles to score Briar Schmidt and Flach, respectively, to take a 4-3 lead.
Clayton Campton held the lead in the seventh, striking out two and getting Post 95 in order to keep Dieterich's season alive.
Late Newton rally downs Robinson 4-2
Newton Post 20 rarely had an answer for Robinson Post 69's Brayden Burch, but thanks to a few key Robinson errors, Newton took their District 23 opener 4-2 Friday night.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Mitch Jansen led off with a walk, followed by Tim Weber reaching on an error by Robinson shortstop Zander Laino and a bunt single by Luke Geier.
Mike Carr came through with a bloop single to center, scoring Jansen to put Newton up 2-1.Burch struck out John Grunloh and Joe Stone, but second baseman Cameron Neese booted a grounder by Mitch Bierman and two more runs scored.
Teutopolis takes down South Central 3-1
Teutopolis Post 924 scored its first run two batters into the game and would never trail from there, holding off late rallies from South Central Post 519 to win 3-1 at the Junior Legion District 23 tournament Friday night.
Post 120 pulls away from Dieterich
A pitcher’s duel between Effingham’s Will Clausius and Dieterich’s Charlie Thoele broke not at the plate, but on the mound.
Tied 0-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Effingham Post 120 got its first run via a bases-loaded, two out balk. The lead would hold up as Post 120’s offense sparked, and Effingham beat Dieterich Post 628 5-0 in the Junior Legion District 23 tournament opener.
Vandalia upsets second-seeded Altamont
Altamont Post 512 never got the bats going, falling to Vandalia Post 95 5-2 in their Junior Legion District 23 tournament opener Thursday night.
Altamont, coming off a trip to the state tournament last summer, was upset by Vandalia and Zach Schaal. Post 512 was the second seed in the tournament, but Schaal was up to the challenge for seventh-seeded Vandalia.
He pitched a complete game, knocking Altamont to the loser’s bracket — where they battled their way out of at last year’s district tournament to make the divisional round. Altamont scored two runs late on an error by shortstop Matt Radamachier, but those were the post’s only runs.
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