NORMAL — After going 4-0 to win the Intercity Volleyball Tournament for the third time in four years, Normal Community High School coach Christine Konopasek was asked if she had any complaints with how her team played.
"I always have complaints," laughed the demanding Konopasek, whose team is 13-0 for the first time in her eight years as coach.
Nerve wracking three-game victories over runner-up University High and third-place Bloomington in the 39th annual tournament gave Konopasek ammunition for nitpicking.
"I would like to see us be more consistent," said Konopasek after moving her career record to 196-29. "I think the girls showed a lot of determination. There were times they were down six or seven points and they battled back."
The run of the day for the Iron was a 7-0 surge in the third game of a 28-26, 27-29, 25-20 victory over U High (12-7). NCHS has had four three-game victories this season including a 25-21, 17-25, 25-19 win over BHS (13-8).
"We overcame a lot of things," said 6-foot-4 Purdue recruit Grace Cleveland, who led NCHS with four-match totals of 43 kills and seven blocks. "They kind of tested us mentally and we were very determined today."
The Iron overcame unforced errors in both three-game wins.
"If one person made an error, then another person did," said Cleveland, who is in her first season as a six-rotation player. "We have to learn how to side-out quicker."
The Iron also downed Central Catholic, 25-18, 25-22, and Normal West, 25-17, 25-19.
"I think Jamie Vasilou probably had the best day for us," said Konopasek, whose setter fed the front row 110 assists when not notching six aces. "She always works so hard. She gets run around like crazy."
Leah Lasher and Kaylee Probst each added 25 kills for NCHS while Indianapolis recruit MaKenna Barnhart had 47 digs.
U High's 3-1 day included wins over West (25-7, 25-15), Central (25-21, 25-20) and BHS (25-23, 21-25, 25-22).
"The goal going in was just looking for a level of consistency across the entire day, which in this tournament is difficult," said Pioneers coach Michael Bolhuis. "We saw that the entire day."
The Pioneers got stuck in a rotation of challenging matchups when NCHS made it's pivotal rally in the third game.
"We couldn't side-out," Bolhuis said. "We couldn't score. They've got a blocker up there like Grace and she kind of makes you think as a hitter quite a bit."
Illyana Lin led U High with 41 kills while Isabel Schaefbauer added 25 kills and 54 assists. Jessica McDowell chipped in 42 digs.
In its loss to the Pioneers, BHS played without leading hitter Leah Anderson, who had a band commitment.
"She helps our offense a great deal," said Purple Raiders coach Joe Sanders, who was pleased with his team's effort. "We just have some suspect rotations."
BHS was led by Lexi Packard's 27 kills and six aces. Corinna Jones added 102 assists while Fia Parker had 51 digs and Elle Weltha nine blocks. An Illinois State softball recruit, Weltha is playing volleyball for the first time.
"She fits really well with our group," said Sanders, whose team topped West (25-19, 25-17) and Central (18-25, 25-12, 25-21).
The host Wildcats (8-9) placed fourth thanks to a 25-13, 25-22 win over Central (9-12).
"A lot of learning happened today," said West coach Kelsey Mueller. "It was good to play good competition."
The Wildcats received 34 assists from Dara Kane, 29 digs from Kylie Bryant, 13 kills from Sam Williams and eight blocks from Megan Marshall.
The Saints (9-12) unexpectedly find themselves in a regrouping phase after a rash of injuries. Western Illinois recruit Erika Moore, a libero, is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery on Tuesday. Hitter McKahl English will return from a hand injury in a couple weeks. A concussion has ended senior setter Hannah Kownick's career.
"Coming in here today, we could have gotten blown out, but we competed," said Central coach J.R. Banister. "It's a building kind of thing for us. We're still trying to figure out what's working. I'm proud of the kids for being aggressive in their playing."
Freshman Abby Cox led the Saints with 29 kills while sophomore Kate Moorman-Wolfe chipped in 78 assists and two blocks. Mallory Bergbower provided 38 digs, 23 kills, 19 service points and eight aces.