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.
Czachorski: Lunt the right man at QB
There haven't been many times I've put pen to paper — or I guess more fittingly finger to keyboard — and written about the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Part of it is due to their football team's struggles, as it's hard to have an opinion on them outside of "man, they went 1-7 in the Big 10 last year" or "I remember that one time they went to the Rose Bowl, but that's about it." Part of it is staying in my wheelhouse, which is MAC football and my alma mater Central Michigan Chippewas, a topic that doesn't concern many, if any, around here.
Neoga prepares for upcoming volleyball season
Another area team finds themselves with a new coach holding the clipboard this season.
Susan Hutchinson is the new volleyball coach for the Neoga Indians, but she isn't new to the game of volleyball. Hutchinson coached at Mattoon for seven years when they were still in the Big 12 Conference. She said her new players had to get used to her coaching style very quickly.
Bulldogs fifth at ISU
St. Anthony took to the links for the second-straight day and had a strong showing at the Raider/Redbird Classic.
The Bulldogs finished fifth among a 20-team field, shooting a 318. East Peoria shot a 312 to win it, Normal U-High and Lincoln each shot 315s with Normal winning the tie-breaker, and Bloomington took fourth with a 317.
St. Anthony will lead with speed
For the last five years, Eric Morales has been the assistant coach of the St. Anthony Bulldogs soccer team. But this season he will have his chance at the helm and try to help lead the Bulldogs to their first regional title since 2010.
St. Anthony is missing six seniors from last years team, including its leading goal scorer and starting goalie.
Flaming Hearts win St. Anthony Invitational
The Flaming Hearts of Effingham were the overall winners and also had the medalist. Effingham shot a team score of 312 to beat the host Bulldogs by nine shots. Hearts senior Jackson Wendling finished with a 72 to take medalist honors.
Teutopolis takes opener against St. Thomas More
Teutopolis took the course with a new coach and four players, but as coach Becky Probst said, it takes four to score.
And those four Lady Shoes took their first match of the year, topping Champaign St. Thomas More 216-227 in both teams' openers at Cardinal Golf Course in Effingham.
Time to tee off, golf season starts fall sports campaign today
The fall sports campaign kicks off in earnest Monday afternoon, with the first area varsity contests being held in Windsor and Effingham this afternoon.
The St. Anthony Invitational boys golf tournament will be held at Fox Prairie Golf Course at 1 p.m. in Windsor, while the Teutopolis Lady Shoes host St. Thomas More at Cardinal Golf Course at 4 p.m.
Flaming Hearts' flexibility a plus; Effingham prepping for upcoming soccer season
Three days into the practice season, Effingham soccer coach Aaron Witges sees a lot of flexibility.
It was something his squad had last year, with 10 seniors but young players forcing their way into the lineup as well.
Coming off a 10-8-3 season, some of those young players will find themselves in new positions for the Flaming Hearts this season.
Flaming Hearts set with new coach
The Effingham Flaming Hearts volleyball team will have a new but familiar face leading them on the sideline this season.
As a former player for the Hearts, coach Mindy McCollum-Boswell will look to lead her team to their first regional title since 2008.
Czachorski: Bears backups worrisome
This might sound shockingly similar to a number of columns I've written in the past, but it bears repeating (excusing a terrible pun).
The quarterback situation is worrisome.
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