Effingham’s Kennedy Sowell couldn’t help but have doubts about Tuesday’s Class 3A Regional semifinal match against Mattoon.
After all, it was the third time the two teams played this season, with the Green Wave taking the first two.
“I shouldn’t have, but I was thinking, ‘What if this is my last high school game. What if this is it?’” she said.
Mattoon, buoyed by an Averie Smith tip, jumped out to a 6-1 lead — something that Sowell and fellow senior Lexi Chrappa have seen before. The two Hearts play with Smith and her setter, Bella Smith, on Rapid Fire, their club team.
Trailing by five points, Effingham dug themselves into a hole, but they managed to get out of it after Bella Smith let the ball drop, thinking it was out of bounds, to tie it at 17.
From there, the Green Wave went on a 5-1 run, pulling away from the Hearts, before ending the set altogether.
However, Effingham didn’t go quietly.
The Hearts stormed out to a 6-3 lead in the second set after Mattoon’s Cadence McDaniel let the ball drop in front of her for a point, but it only got worse after that.
Chrappa missed a dig. Mattoon’s Faith Niebrugge slammed the ball over the net. Bella Smith made a tip. Averie Smith spiked the ball, and suddenly, the Green Wave led 13-11.
“There’s one junior that plays on that team,” Chrappa said. “They’re a heck of a team. They have more experience than some of our girls do and have played together since junior high. They have more chemistry than we do, so we had to work on that this year. That’s just something that was an advantage.”
Behind Sowell and Chrappa, though, Effingham willed its way back into the match, eventually tying it at 16.
Then, with Mattoon leading 22-17, Chrappa served to extend her high school volleyball career.
She gained a point, then lost one when her second serve went out of bounds.
The teams traded points once more before Mattoon pulled ahead again, winning the second set 25-20 and ending the Hearts season.
Chrappa finished the match with two kills and 10 digs. Sowell finished with two kills and two blocks and believes that some of her teammates may have been nervous on a bigger stage.
“I think some people folded under pressure a little bit,” Sowell said. “I mean, it’s scary. It’s a regional game. There’s a lot on the line, especially for us seniors. Some people get in their heads and mess up and probably focusing on not messing up than I getting the next point.”
As for Chrappa, a comeback season ended sooner than she thought, even though she wasn’t sure that she would have had a senior year.
The Vincennes verbal commit tore her ACL in February.
“When I tore my ACL in February, I didn’t think I was going to be back at all for a high school game. All I ever heard was if you tear an ACL, you’re out for a year,” Chrappa said. “I worked and worked. I wanted to be on this floor for my senior year. I made it happen. I got to play in every single game. I want everyone to know it’s doable if you work hard.”
As for Sowell, she said she should have done a better job of being a leader but allowed her emotions to get the best of her — something she tried improving all year.
“I tend to get down on myself,” Sowell said. “I’m a competitive person. I hold myself to a high standard. So if I’m not playing to the best of my ability or to a level that I know I can play, then I get down. I’ve had talks with the coach about this. Most of our team is underclassmen. And they look up to us.
“They mostly look up to Lexi and me, so anytime we’re down, they get down. I do regret that. I regret letting myself appear to be upset or mad at them even though I’m not. Because I know it got them into a funk too. That’s my biggest regret.”