CHATHAM — At 5-foot-8, Bradley recruit Hannah Thompson was not the most imposing volleyball player in the Class 4A Chatham Glenwood Sectional semifinals on Monday.
However, she had the biggest impact as her 16 kills on .429 hitting and 14 digs powered Pekin High School to a 25-22, 25-22 triumph over Normal Community.
“The most frustrating part is I don’t think we were given anything unexpected,” said NCHS coach Christine Konopasek. “Pekin just did an excellent job of executing their game plan.”
The Iron ended at 31-6 while Pekin improved to 30-7 ahead of Wednesday’s 6 p.m. final against Edwardsville (31-5).
“I thought there were times where we worked,” Konopasek said. “But I also thought there were times where they played smarter. Two or three times they had us running literally from corner to corner. That’s not something we have seen.
“It seemed like we were out of sorts — frazzled at times. I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job, for the most part, this year of keeping our composure.”
NCHS, which topped Pekin in last year’s sectional semifinals 25-19, 25-21, saw composure slip the final five points of each game.
The Iron overcame a 4-0 deficit in game one to go up 17-14. They still led at 21-19 when a Thompson kill sent the Dragons on a 6-1 game-ending run.
“We can’t start down 4-0 and think that we are going to bounce back against highly competitive teams,” Konopasek said. “(Thompson) obviously carries their offense.
“I think that Jamie Vasilou did a great job of digging her out of zone one. Jamie did her job, but I think there were times on the front row where (Thompson) was great at using the block. Hannah is a great hitter.”
Pekin outblocked NCHS, 6-3.
Several times Iron outside hitter MaKenna Barnhart faced a wall of four hands. The Indianapolis recruit still managed eight kills and 13 digs.
Teammate Grace Cleveland, a 6-foot-4 Purdue recruit, led NCHS with 13 kills while Vasilou had 25 assists and 11 digs.
“We fought hard,” Cleveland said. “(Thompson) knows when to hit the right shots. She switches it up all the time so that made it hard on us.
“We went into the season feeling great and I think we did have a really good season. I don’t think this game tells what our season was.”
Monday’s second game saw NCHS take a 4-0 lead, but Pekin answered with a 5-0 run. Nine ties followed until a serving error put Pekin up 20-19. An Iron hitting error was followed by a Thompson kill before Emma Clark’s ace made it 22-19. NCHS never got within one again.
A Cleveland kill appeared to pull the Iron within 24-23, but she touched the net and the season was over.
“We had to have some good defense against (Cleveland),” said Thompson’s coach and mother, Yvonne. “She’s a very smart player.
“Hannah is a good leader out there. When she can feel the enthusiasm, the rest of the team feeds off that. Being small, we’ve always taught her she’s got to use that volleyball IQ.”
Konopasek already misses her eight seniors.
“The seniors have left some big shoes to fill for lots of different reasons,” she said.