Following their three-set win last Friday night over Fairfield in the McLeansboro Super-Sectional, Nashville’s volleyball team celebrated the program’s first trip to the state tournament in 29 years.
“It means so much to us,” setter Abby Grabowski said. “It’s what we’ve been working for. All year long.”
With that accomplished, Hornettes coach Josh Konkel has reminded his players that there’s still one more thing they can work for this week – a state championship.
“We don’t want to be satisfied and resting on our laurels,” he said. “We’re going to give it our best shot to win it all. It’s a big deal, but there is still work to do.”
That work starts Friday around 1:30 p.m. at Redbird Arena in Normal when Nashville (32-8) matches serves and spikes with Galena (35-5) in the second Class 2A semifinal. St. Thomas More of Champaign meets Pleasant Plains in the first semifinal match.
The good news for the Hornettes is that this isn’t a field full of teams used to state tourney pressure, aside from St. Thomas More, which won last year in its first state tournament appearance. Both Galena and Pleasant Plains are going for the first time in school history.
Konkel has had a much tougher task finding information on Galena, a small school located near the Wisconsin border in northwest Illinois, than he has getting his team back to work. He finally found a couple of videos posted to a Facebook page that enabled him to piece together a scouting report of sorts on the Pirates.
“They’re similar to Fairfield and Carlyle,” he said. “They use the left-side hitter a lot and have good middle blocking. As long as we execute, we should be able to compete.”
While Galena offers a prolific outside hitter in Morgan Wills, who’s pounded down 337 kills, Nashville counters with balance. Delaney Varel’s 217 kills lead the way, but four other hitters have recorded between 133 and 140.
Varel was the go-to girl against Fairfield, finishing with 16 kills, one off her season high. She had eight in the decisive third game as the Hornettes hit the figurative X button with a 13-2 run, eventually winning 25-14.
Konkel feels it will be that kind of performance that could propel his team into the winner’s circle this weekend.
“Our team, if you look at it throughout the year, any player can pick it up at any given time,” he said. “We need to have a special performance out of any given player like we had from Delaney against Fairfield.
“If we can have one individual player step up and star in a match, it takes pressure off the rest of the team. Our girls have realized that any given player can have a great night. When someone is on, let’s ride them as far as we can.”
Multiple Nashville players have espoused that philosophy this year. It’s one reason they’ve been able to make it this far despite not having a true star player. They have no real weak spots on the floor, particularly on defense, where the combination of good blockers and a dogged back row make it impossible to put balls down with any consistency.
Over time, it wears on opponents to the point where they start tipping and pushing on attacks instead of swinging all-out. The Hornettes may not win powerfully, but they win, and they’re two wins away from becoming immortal in the small Washington County town.
“This team and group have bought into it,” Konkel said of the team concept. “They’re all enjoying the ride the same, no matter who gets the points.”