Girls volleyball: Uni drops season opener
Published: Friday, August 31, 2007 - 4:11am
Junior Rachel Skoza gets ready to deliver a shot against Oakwood in Uni's first match of the season. Skoza finished with 2 blocks, but the Illineks lost 18-25, 16-25. Gargoyle photo (click to enlarge)
FITHIAN — The Oakwood Comets defeated the Uni girls volleyball team in two games Thursday night as the Illineks began their 2007 season.
The host Comets, led by senior Stephanie Denius and sophomore Amy Martin, won the first game 25-18. Uni cut Oakwood's lead to 17-15 at one point but couldn't draw any closer.
In the second game junior Rachel Skoza, a middle hitter, tied the scored at 9-9, but Uni couldn't take the lead. The Illineks eventually fell 16-25 to lose the nonconference match 2-0.
"The first game of the season was a tough one," Skoza commented "Starting into the second game of the match I realized we still have a lot to work on if we want to have a successful season this year."
On the night, seniors Karen Woodley, a middle hitter, and Sarah Pfander, an outside hitter, led Uni with 2 kills each.
Skoza had 2 blocks; senior Chelsea Freeland, an outside hitter/middle hitter, had 1.
Four Illineks recorded 2 digs apiece: Welch, Pfander, senior Jamie Weiser (libero/outside hitter), and junior Annie Machesky (outside hitter/libero).
Weiser finished with 2 aces; Freeland, Pfander, and senior Claire Johnson (right side) had 1 each.
In JV action, Uni defeated Oakwood in three games: 25-17, 22-25, 25-13.
"Before the varsity match, I was feeling pretty good," Skoza said. "JV had just won, and we were all jumping around psyched for our turn to play. Unfortunately that enthusiasm didn't last too long, and I got really frustrated and down on myself, like I'm sure my teammates did as well, seeing as how we played. There's no denying Oakwood is a good team though."
The varsity girls are entering the new season hoping to build on their success of the last two years. The Illineks finished with a record of 15-14-1 in 2006, the first winning campaign in the history of Uni volleyball. The school's previous best records were 14-14 in 2005 and 10-10 in 1996, when current head coach Amanda Palla was a senior.
Palla's latest squad is without 2007 graduates Mandy Grill, who holds the Uni career records for digs (471) and aces (153, shared with 2006 alum Annie Fehrenbacher), and Beckaa Wallig, who was an East Central Illinois Conference honorable-mention pick.
The team will also be without junior Jessi Sullivan, who will miss the season as she recovers from jaw surgery. Sullivan recorded 133 kills last year, the third-best season performance ever by an Illinek. (Palla, a 1997 Uni grad, holds the season record with 173 kills.) The team had originally hoped Sullivan would return by mid-September.
"Without Jessi, we've been playing fairly decently," Skoza said. "But we've always had the fact that she'll be back with us in a few weeks stuck in the back of our minds; the thought was kind of reassuring. I can't believe she's missing out on the whole season. Her amazing hitting would have helped us out a lot."
On the plus side, Uni returns a number of veterans who are now in their third year of playing for Palla. Heading the list is Welch, who already owns Uni's career record in assists (603 after Thursday's performance). Welch is third all-time in digs (now 273) and aces (124).
Other returning varsity players include Weiser, who is fourth on the career list for digs (212 after Thursday); fellow seniors Woodley, Pfander, Freeland, and Johnson; and juniors Skoza, Machesky, and Sheri Grill. They are joined by varsity newcomer Michelle Wong, a sophomore defensive specialist.
In 2006 the girls not only compiled the school's first winning record in volleyball, they also went 8-4 in the ECIC to place second behind Decatur Lutheran, Uni's best conference finish in the sport.
"Our goal is to do as well as last year," Palla said. "We have a lot of returning players, but we're missing our left side from last season [Mandy Grill and Sullivan]. We've also switched our system to two setters instead of one. I really want the girls to get comfortable in the new set."
The Illineks, now 0-1, will play five matches on Saturday as they compete in the annual DeLand-Weldon Eagle Classic. They will begin at 8 a.m. against Atwood-Hammond, followed by Kincaid at 10 a.m. and Morrisonville at 1 p.m. Uni's other two opponents will be determined by what happens in the first three rounds.
Last season Uni went 1-4 in the Eagle Classic. Palla said she would like to come away with three wins this time. As for her players, the daylong tourney gves them a chance to get back on track.
"I'm just going to forget about the match last night," Skoza said, "and start fresh for the DeLand-Weldon tournament tomorrow."
2007 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL VARSITY RECORD: 0-1
(home matches listed in bold)
Aug. 30: at Oakwood, L 18-25, 16-25
- Story: see above
- Kills: Karen Woodley 2, Sarah Pfander 2
- Assists: Ruth Welch 3, Sheri Grill 2
- Blocks: Rachel Skoza 2, Chelsea Freeland 1, Woodley 1
- Digs: Jamie Weiser 2, Annie Machesky 2, Welch 2, Pfander 2
- Aces: Weiser 2, Claire Johnson 1, Freeland 1, Pfander 1
- JV match: Uni def. Oakwood in three games: 25-17, 22-25, 25-13 (JV record: 1-0)
Next match: DeLand-Weldon Eagle Classic, Sept. 1, DeLand-Weldon H.S. (directions); first Uni match to begin at 8 a.m. vs. Atwood-Hammond, followed by Uni vs. Kincaid at 10 a.m., Uni vs. Morrisonvile at 1 p.m., and two other matches to be determined.