NORMAL — NCOE’s volleyball team won the first set of its third place match in the IHSA Class 1A volleyball championship Saturday morning at Redbird Arena, but they couldn’t put Athens away.

The Cardinals’ season ended with a 24-26, 25-16, 25-9 loss, forcing them to settle for their second fourth place finish in four years.

NCOE (36-4) fought off two set points in the first game, scoring the last four points. Sophie Neal sandwiched consecutive kills by Emilee Bishop with kills of her own, marking the first time the Cardinals have taken a set at the state tourney.

However, Athens put its stamp on the match in the last two games, relying heavily on Caroline Lendy. She finished with a whopping 26 kills, hitting an outstanding .400 for the match. Lendy collected five kills as Athens raced to a 13-5 second game lead, an advantage it held to its end.

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Lendy got her team off to a 10-5 third game lead with six kills, and NCOE aided its demise with a number of attack errors after that. The Cardinals collected 23 of those for the match and hit only .039 for the match.

Neal paced NCOE with nine kills, while Duncan bagged eight and Bishop added seven. Mattie Wells dished out 22 assists and had 12 digs, while Duncan bagged 19 digs.

Newark defended its state championship of a year ago with a 25-19, 25-22 decision over Illini Bluffs. In Class 2A, Breese Mater Dei, which bounced Fairfield in the Vandalia Super-Sectional, dropped a 25-22, 26-24 verdict to Decatur St. Teresa in the championship match.

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