MINONK – One word that describes Fieldcrest’s preseason camp is intense. That is largely due to the fact four key components graduated off a group that went 27-9 a season ago and captured a regional before they fell 25-12, 25-21 to St. Joseph-Ogden in the Bismarck-Henning Sectional. Among them are outside hitter and first team Heart of Illinois Conference choice in Emma Peterson (297 kills), setters Lexi Jochums (397 assists) and Alaina Tjaden (260 assists), along with libero Madi Hock (251 digs).

“I think it’s pretty competitive. The kids realize there’s some positions that’s there for the taking,” stated Knights’ coach Cathy Sanders. “It’s made practices a lot more intriguing. There’s a lot of evaluations going on, The girls realize that approach.”

The lone returning starter is senior outside Alyx Carls, while the only other player who saw valuable court time is 6-foot-1 junior middle Gracie Schultz, the daughter of assistant coach Cari Schultz.

With the departure of Peterson, Fieldcrest may shift into more a hitting by committee approach.

“Emma scored a lot of points for us, but I think it will be more balanced,” commented Sanders, who begins her eighth overall season at Fieldcrest with a record of 155-89-1. “It’s just trying to find right the combination of players, which is what we had last year.”

According to Sanders, Fieldcrest’s passing has been a bit up and down.

“Passing’s a little shaky,” she admitted, “Sometimes, it looks good and sometimes, it looks bad.”

A total of six players (three first-year, three sophomores) have been brought up to the varsity. That is largely due to only eight upperclass players (five seniors, three juniors).

“They’re on the roster because I think they’re competitive,” stated Sanders, who starts her 19th season as a head coach (436-203-2), “I think this is the first time I’ve put three (first-year) on the roster. I’m not sure about playing time, but they’ll be good players.”

Schultz is one of three Knights 5-10 or taller, but Sanders is unsure if that will give them a significant advantage.

“Not sure yet. We may try some different rotations,” said Sanders, who plans to continue with a 6-2 offense. “The height might be there, but we have to get them into game mode,”

Eureka (34-4, 12-0) is the three-time HOIC champion. Also in the mix for league supremacy this season figures to be Deer Creek-Mackinaw (26-11) and Tri-Valley (23-8).

“I think it’s the usual,” pointed out Sanders, referring to the aforementioned trio. “Our conference is going to be stronger. It’s a little more loaded.”

Fieldcrest opens against the hosts at 8 a.m. Saturday in the Spring Valley Hall Early Bird Invitational. The Knights, who are the reigning champs of the event, have other pool play matchups with Galva (11 a.m.) and Plano (noon). The title match is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The remainder of the schedule is as follows (all non-invite varsity matches will start around 6:45 p.m. unless noted):

Sept. 5: versus Putnam County

Sept. 10: @ Le Roy*

Sept. 12: @ @ Heyworth*

Sept. 17: vs, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley*

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Sept. 19: vs. Flanagan-Cornell*

Sept. 21: Knight Invite, pool play matches @ Minonk & Wenona

Sept, 23: @ Roanoke-Benson, 7 p.m.

Sept. 24: @ Fisher*

Sept. 26: vs, T-V*

Sept. 30: @ Eureka*

Oct. 1; vs, El Paso-Gridley*

Oct. 3: @ DCM*

Oct. 8: @ Dwight

Oct. 10: vs, Tremont*

Oct. 12: Beecher Invite

Oct. 15: vs. Ridgeview* @ Colfax

Oct. 17: vs. Lexington*

Oct. 22, 24 & 26: McLean Co. tourney @ DCM

Oct. 28-29 & 31: Regional

*-HOIC match

Notes: EP-G (25) and F-C (25) were the other HOIC squads to exceed 20 wins in 2018. The league’s two new head coaches are Lena Dohner (Eureka) and Drew Robertson (Heyworth).

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