The gravity of the moment wasn't lost on Stew-Stras junior Kendall Knop.
Moments after the Comets punched their ticket to their first state tournament since 1995-96 with a 25-20, 24-26, 25-18 win over Liberty, Knop knew what it meant.
"It just feels really good, I feel like we're part of history and that like really amazes me," she said.
The dramatic three-set victory was enough to make Stew-Stras (27-12) the Class 1A Nokomis Super-Sectional champions Saturday.
Knop's coach Ronda Schlechte was also reveling in the moment post-game.
"It's really good, this never gets old, it never gets old," she said.
Stew-Stras advances to the Class 1A state tournament Friday, facing off with New Athens at 10:30 a.m. at Illinois State's Redbird Arena in Normal. Keith Country Day and Scotia West Prairie play in the other semifinal at 9 a.m.
It took a concerted effort throughout, beginning with a tight first set. Stew-Stras struggled with some hitting errors but stayed consistently within three points.
Down 19-16 after a Madelyn Hyer kill for Liberty, the Comets took over. Kills by Baylee Quast and Knop got them close, and Clara Kaufman put them up with two straight aces.
The Eagles would get a point on an error, but a kill by Becca Schlechte ended the set for Stew-Stras with a 25-20 win. Schlechte's play was part of a large team effort for Stew-Stras.
"The girls can place the ball really well, so there's a lot we can do with that," Ronda Schlechte said. "Hitting hard is our main goal, because the girls are able to put it down."
Liberty jumped out again early in the second again with Hyer taking over for a 13-8 lead. Stew-Stras came back to take the lead on a Schlechte ace at 18-17, but immediately gave the lead back.
The Comets staved off a 24-22 deficit with a Brittani Tabbert kill and a hitting error, but Liberty took the set with a block to end it at 26-24.
The blocking was an advantage for Stew-Stras and not for Liberty the majority of the night, thanks to the schematic differences between the teams.
Stew-Stras routinely double blocked the bigger Liberty hitters, while the Eagles generally only put one blocker on the Comets' hitters, allowing Knop to rack up 18 kills and Tabbert to notch 11.
"It's just good with one block, I can do a lot with one blocker," Knop said. "We've always been big strong hitters. The setters did a really good job putting it where I needed it. They were pretty perfect tonight."
Stew-Stras jumped out to the lead in the third, taking a 14-8 lead and forcing a Liberty timeout. The Eagles responded with five straight points and forced Schlechte into a timeout of her own.
It worked, as Stew-Stras immediately jumped out to a four-point lead and didn't look back. Schlechte, Knop and Kaufman were big down the stretch, and a hitting error by Liberty ended the ga,e.
"I said calm down, not to panic," Ronda Schlechte said. "We tend to do that when we get under pressure."
Becca Schlechte had eight kills of her own with 22 assists, 12 digs and one solo block. Quast added 18 assists and six digs, while Tabbert had 15 digs and Knop added 10 digs and four aces. Morgan Stremming also had a solo block on the night.
Moving forward, Knop was clear on what it would take to bring home the Comets' first state title since the 1986-87 season.
"This; exactly what we did tonight," she said. "We didn't give up."
Liberty 20 26 18
Stew-Stras 25 24 25
Stew-Stras: Schlechte (1 ace, 8 kills, 22 assists, 12 digs, 1 solo block, 2 block assists); Quast (3 kills, 18 assists, 6 digs, 1 block assist); Knop (4 aces, 18 kills, 10 digs); Tabbert (1 ace, 11 kills, 15 digs); Stremming (1 dig, 1 solo block, 1 block assist); Locke (6 digs); Kaufman (2 aces, 2 block assists)
Comets down Liberty in three to advance to state
The gravity of the moment wasn't lost on Stew-Stras junior Kendall Knop.
Sesser stops Dieterich
Dieterich held Sesser-Valier scoreless almost halfway through the fourth quarter, but the Movin’ Maroons only scored four points to that point.
Time kept ticking away on the Maroons, trailing by 12 points with 4:36 remaining; then their offense got on a roll. A 16-point deficit to begin the fourth quarter quickly turned into a small four points.
But the Maroons fumbled chances to cut into the lead, especially from the free throw line. They shot 43.8 percent from the line in their 57-48 Class 1A Super-Sectional loss on Tuesday in Carbondale.
Shoes' comeback falls short, 51-45
He said it gets worse each year.
Teutopolis head coach Andy Fehrenbacher was at a loss for words as to why and how the Wooden Shoes lost their fourth consecutive super-sectional on Tuesday.
“Not many programs can say they’ve gotten this far four times in a row, but when you don’t break through, it makes it harder and harder each year,” Fehrenbacher said. “I’m at such a loss and I’m empty inside.”
The Shoes fell 51-45 against Nashville in the Class 2A Super-Sectional, making for what Fehrenbacher said will be another tough offseason.
Maroons hoping first time's the charm
In two years at the helm of the Dieterich Movin' Maroons, Jeff Staser is 45-17 with a trip to the regional final in 2013, and regional and sectional crowns in 2014.
In the process, he's brought Dieterich to uncharted territory, as the Maroons will play in its first-ever Super-Sectional game tonight against Sesser-Valier at 6 p.m. at Southern Illinois University.
Shoes "ready to break through"
The eight Teutopolis Wooden Shoes seniors have accomplished enough to make almost every other high school in Illinois jealous.
Three area runners medal at SIU
A pair of area runners started off the track season with a bang, as St. Anthony's Anna Sophia Keller and Cumberland's Tye Sutherland took home first-place medals in the opening meet of the season Saturday.
Teutopolis advances to 4th straight Super-Sectional
Teutopolis couldn't have started each of the first three quarters any better.
The Wooden Shoes Shoes took an 11-0 lead in the first five minutes of the first quarter and started the second and third quarters on 7-0 and 9-0 runs, respectively.
Their third-quarter outburst gave them the 17-point lead that was too much for Greenville to come back from. The Shoes won 64-53 to advance to Tuesday's Class 2A Carbondale Super-Sectional at Southern Illinois University. It's Teutopolis' fourth-straight trip to the Super-Sectional round.
Maroons make history
With just more than 12 minutes left, Dieterich's offense was scuffling and the Movin' Maroons trailed St. Anthony by 11, 34-23.
Then Alex Bohnhoff kick started the Maroons' offense with a pair of 3-pointers, and Dieterich completed a big comeback to down their NTC rivals 58-51 and win its first-ever sectional title
Zerrusen reflects on 1K milestone, career
Josie Zerrusen used to be a handful for her Effingham coaches, but turned into a headache for opponents by the end her senior season.
Zerrusen, the only one of four Hearts seniors to reach 1,000 points in her career this season, was preoccupied with scoring points as a sophomore on a 20-10 team in 2012.
But the Hearts improved as Zerrusen matured, recording 54 wins in the last two seasons, including a school-record 28 this season and a regional championship. Zerrusen grew up by changing her attitude and refusing to take summers off.
All-NTC showdown set at sectionals
At least one area team will play Monday at Southern Illinois University for Super-Sectionals. Teutopolis is looking to make it two.
Tonight will mark the end of the road for either St. Anthony (22-10) or Dieterich (22-8), as the NTC rivals clash for the Class 1A Red Hill Sectional championship. A win would be Dieterich’s first-ever sectional crown, and it would be the first for St. Anthony since 2001.
Teutopolis (20-9) is looking to advance to the Super-Sectional round for the fourth-straight season and is playing for a sectional title for the fifth-straight year. The Wooden Shoes take on Greenville for the Class 2A Vandalia Sectional title.
Olney ends Effingham's season
Effingham battled offensive woes in waves this season and found ways to win almost 80 percent of the time, but not on Wednesday.
Olney, one of the Hearts' 20 victims this year, ended Effingham's season with a 35-32 win in the Salem Regional, surviving a poor shooting night as well.
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