EARLVILLE – There certainly weren't any surprises during quarterfinal play at the 45th annual Little Ten Conference Volleyball Tournament on Tuesday evening between four of The Times area teams that were involved in matches.
No. 1 seeded Newark – seeking its 22nd conference tourney title since the event began back in 1976 and 16th since head coach Tonya Grayson took over the program in 2001 – trounced No. 8 seed Leland 25-1, 25-13, while No. 4 seeded Earlville had its way with No. 5 seed Somonauk 25-19, 25-19 here at Earlville High School.
The Lady Norsemen and the Red Raiders will now meet in Thursday night's first tourney semifinal matchup at 6 p.m., while the Lady Bobcats and the Lady Panthers both fell to the consolation side of the bracket where they'll meet each other at 5 p.m. that same night.
Newark's serve levels Leland
When the defending Class 1A state champions are on with their service game, there are not many small school programs in the state that can compete with such prowess.
The Lady Norsemen rifled off a bevy of scintillating serves, including a whopping 16 aces while also holding the Lady Panthers to only a scant tally in Set 1 and only five attack points in Set 2 after Grayson emptied her bench for the second stanza.
Newark (23-1) started their serving dominance in the opening set when junior Taylor Christian reeled off six consecutive winners and two aces before providing Leland (3-13-1) with its only point in the game with a missed serve into the net. Then after a quick side out, junior Cassidy Adams embarked on an amazing 18-point run from the stripe, six of those aces, to closed out the first set.
"It was pretty crazy serving for that many points on just one service possession without giving the ball up," Adams remarked. "Coach (Grayson) just kept calling good spots for me to serve to and it worked out pretty well. I've maybe had 10 straight points before in my volleyball career but nothing like that for sure."
Grayson then gave her reserves time to shine in Set 2 where senior Lex Lohrey delivered nine points, five aces, and five assists as Newark was never in any danger.
The Lady Norsemen also received nine assists from Christian, four kills and one block from Mattie Chapman, four kills from Kjersten Friestad, and three daggers from Naomi Sweeney. Madi Malone (three kills) and Meggie Scott (four digs) also contributed to the mix.
The Lady Panthers were paced by Jenny Rosales (three points, one ace), Julia Wincker (two points, one ace), and Olivia Hallowell (one kill).
Koontz, Pickert shine vs. Lady Bobcats
It didn't take too long to figure out which two players were the dominant forces as Earlville had a relatively easy time dispatching Somonauk to move into the semifinal tilt with Newark.
Seniors Kylie Koontz (10 kills, 11 digs) and Jadyn Pickert (nine kills, one block) made their presence felt at the net as the Red Raiders took command midway throughout both sets and never really faced any hardship.
Earlville (14-10) also saw setter Emma Benson (23 assists, eight points) and Meghann Harness (11 digs, four kills).
The two ballclubs last faced each other back on September 19 when the Lady Norsemen bested the Raiders 25-10, 25-15 during LTC regular season play.
"We'll have to have our 'A' game Thursday, that's for sure, but I was very happy with the way Kylie, Jadyn and the rest of the girls stepped up tonight in order to get us another shot at Newark," said EHS coach Tonya Scherer. "Kylie put away some nice balls and Jadyn really did a nice job tipping some balls into the open spots of their defense. Other than a few mistakes on serve receive, I was pleased with our effort."
Koontz pounded down five kills in the first set to help ice the opener that ended with an 8-5 run.
"We did a nice job early getting the ball up to and Emma knew where to place it for me," Koontz said. "It was fast and I had some good chances early that I put away."
Pickert then took control down the stretch in the second stanza with three deftly placed tip kills in the middle which earned her team a win that was never really in doubt.
"There were some tips for kills tonight that I though about trying to put away hard but I saw some open spots I was able to take advantage of," Pickert said. "Especially in the second set I tried to play a more strategic game at the net with my tips."
Somonauk (5-10-2) received excellent efforts from Katie Tripp (five kills, three digs, one block), Mckenna Dayhuff (three kills), Karlee McBride (three digs, two blocks), and Sydney Johnson (four assists).
"Our passing wasn't very strong tonight and we made a lot of hitting errors at the net," said SHS coach Aleesha Carlson. "We're seeded fifth in this tournament and now we have to fight back in the consolation bracket and win the next two matches in order to justify that seeding."