Perfect season ends for United

Aaron Frey/Register Mail

LEWISTOWN - Illini Central on Tuesday, Nov. 3 cast a season-ending spell on the United High School volleyball team's magical run.

Unbeaten in 36 matches through regional play, the Red Storm bowed out in a semifinal of the Class 1A Lewistown Sectional with a 25-22, 25-23 loss to the Cougars.

Illini Central (33-6) plays for the sectional title at 7 p.m. Thursday against Tremont, a 19-25, 25-15, 28-26 winner over Princeville in Tuesday's second semifinal.

"I really did feel like it was a once-in-a-lifetime team, but we just couldn't put it together tonight," Red Storm junior middle hitter Gina Long said.

It certainly looked that way from the start. The Cougars took the first three points of the match and used six United errors during a 7-0 run to take a 17-6 lead in the first set.

"That gave us a lot of confidence," said Illini Central junior Sierra Burris, an Illinois State recruit. "We just wanted to go out and get more points. It was a real go-getter. We just wanted to come in confident because we knew they were undefeated."

Down 23-17 in the opening set, United (36-1) won five of the next six points to close to within 24-22, but Burris put down one of her team-best 11 kills to close the set.

"Our passing is our engine," said Illini Central coach Ren Anweiler, a 2000 graduate of Roseville High School. "We have big hitters, and when our passing is on it's tough to stop us."

The Cougars got off to another quick start in the second set, this time grabbing a 14-7 advantage. Sommer Foster's kill capped a 6-0 Red Storm run to make it 16-16, the first time United managed to even forge a tie in the match.

Another 6-0 United run tied the set 23-23, but the Cougars closed it out with points from Lauren Deiss and Jazmine Close.

"It was tough, but since we were able to come back it showed we wanted it," said Long, who had a match-high 13 kills.

United's defense was left scrambling for balls much of the match, and the Red Storm's passing was uncharacteristically inaccurate.

"We just weren't passing well tonight and the girls know that," Red Storm coach Damos said. "They weren't passing well and couldn't run their quick offense. We knew if we lost, we would want to just play well, and that's what hurts right now."

United's 36 victories were a school record, but the Red Storm lost in the sectional semifinals for a second consecutive season.

"It kind of seemed like it wasn't meant to be," Damos said. "A lot of things went against us. It's hard to have it be over, but to have 36 victories and one loss doesn't make it a bad season. This was a good season."