EUREKA – Of the 32 volleyball sectional finals conducted statewide on Oct. 31, the last one to get going took place on a collegiate floor.
In a battle of Heart of Illinois Conference squads, Eureka outlasted Deer Creek-Mackinaw 25-22, 26-24 at Eureka College’s Reagan Athletic Complex.
The match was originally slated for Monmouth United, which hosted the two semifinals, but was moved the day before to lessen travel for the participants, separated by less than 20 miles.
The Hornets (34-4) raced out to a 5-0 lead in the second set, which included a pair of Amy Pineda service aces, a Courtney Heffren kill, a lift call on DCM (26-11) and a pass from Alison Nohl that fell on the Chiefs’ side of the court.
“That was a great start. We usually do not get out to a quick start so I was glad we did,” Eureka coach Tracy Heffren said.
The Hornets eventually built a 20-13 advantage before DCM made a charge. They wiped out three potential Eureka match points to knot the set at 24 following a Hornets’ hitting error.
Hailey Flowers came through with her ninth kill to give Eureka a 25-24 lead before Darby Leman served an ace to close it out.
“I think we were frustrated. We had opportunities in the first (set) and did not capitalize on them,” stated Chiefs’ coach Brandon Mueller. “I do not think we were mentally focused and ready to go and they jumped on us. We made some silly errors.”
Following Flowers in the hitting department was the younger Heffren, who contributed six kills.
“I thought we had some other girls step up but we do have them as go-tos,” Tracy Heffren said.
Those came in the form of Lauren Ausmus and Joan Zimmerman, who each had four kills.
According to Mueller, DCM was attempting to hold down Flowers and C. Heffren.
“We wanted the other girls to beat us,” he said. “I do not think they beat us, but they had a couple big kills and big moments.”
The victory extended Eureka’s streak over the Chiefs to six in a row.
“I’m not sure what the secret is,” said Coach Heffren of getting past DCM over this recent stretch. “I just remember playing them in fifth and sixth grade. I guess we have a lot of confidence when we play them.”
A kill from 6-foot Addy Gruse tied the opening set at 22. Eureka recorded the final three points on a Zimmerman kill, Ausmus solo block and combo block from Ausmus and Zimmerman.
Somehow, the Hornets shook off six service errors to capture the set.
“We struggled at the service line,” said Tracy Heffren. “I’m not sure why. We usually do not have those kinds of struggles that much.”
Carson Smalley, who had 12 kills versus Eureka in the 2017 Farmington Sectional final, led the Chiefs with seven, while Gruse added five. Morgan Burr handed out 12 assists.
Pineda (nine points) had 11 assists, while Leman added 10. Flowers and C. Heffren recorded five digs apiece.
Notes: Flowers finished her prep career with 1,083 kills.