EUREKA – With nine players lost to graduation plus its head coach moving up to the next level, there is a lot of newness in the Eureka volleyball program. Ten-year coach Tracy Heffren (216-121 record) resigned in late June to accept the same position at Illinois Central College. They helped the Hornets finish with a 34-4 record and advance to the supersectional round for the third consecutive season. The Hornets lost in three sets to eventual two A champion Pleasant Plains (34-6) 25-20, 15-25, 25-22.

Stepping in will be former assistant Lena Dohner, who was hired July 8. Although most everything will stay the same, there will be a minor change or two.

“There’s a few things different,” Dohner said, “I’m different than Tracy, but she (is) a strong and huge influence.”

Among the departed are a pair of outside hitters in Radford (Va,) University signee Hailey Flowers (416 kills, 259 digs, 143 points) and Courtney Heffren (293 kills, 287 digs, 276 points), who will play for her mother at ICC. Also lost to graduation were setter Amy Pineda (515 assists, 185 points) and libero Katie Morin (301 digs).

That has led to about all of the six starting positions up for grabs.

“They’ve been very competitive,” said Dohner of practices. “They’ve been fun to see them compete. Once we start games, that’ll solidify what we do.”

The top returnees are senior setter Darby Leman (348 assists), senior outside Joan Zimmerman and 5-foot-10 junior outside Alexis Charlton.

According to Dohner, Eureka will still operate out of a 6-2.

“We’re hoping we’ll be an offense that will have all options. We’re mixing it up a little bit,” she pointed out. “We’re focusing a lot on ball control and passing. We’re young, but very coachable. They want to learn and improve.”

The Hornets are a perfect 38-0 in regular season HOIC matches since they joined in 2016.

“I try not to think about it,” said Dohner of the program’s 1,000 winning percentage in the league. “Us being the biggest school in the conference, there’s a target on our back. Winning conference three years in a row, everybody wants to take us down.”

Also in play for league honors are DCM (26-11), who Eureka eliminated in three sets in a sectional final, and Tri-Valley (23-8).

According to Dohner, she never imagined being the head coach at her alma mater. After high school, her volleyball career continued with two years at ICC and the final two with Illinois Wesleyan. She served as a Hornets’ assistant for the previous 13 years.

“I did not envision on being back here in Eureka,” said Dohner, who did her student-teaching in the Chicago suburbs. “I do not know if you’re fully prepared moving over a chair. I have a lot of good resources. I’m glad Coach (Jamie) Roth and Coach (Nicole) Underwood are with me.”

The Hornets tangle with host Olympia in a battle of ex-Corn Belt Conference rivals in Thursday's opener at 6:45 p.m. The rest of the schedule is as follows (all non-invite matches start around 6:45 p.m. unless indicated):

Saturday: Kewanee Wethersfield Invite (pool includes Erie, Mercer County & the host Geese)

Sept. 5: vs. Roanoke-Benson

Sept. 10: @ Lexington*

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Sept. 12: vs, Le Roy*

Sept. 17: @ Heyworth*

Sept. 19: vs. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley*

Sept. 20-21: Mt, Pulaski Fall Festival

Sept. 24: @ Flanagan-Cornell*

Sept. 26: vs. Fisher*

Sept. 30: vs, Fieldcrest*

Oct. 1: vs. T-V* @ Downs*

Oct. 3: @ El Paso-Gridley*

Oct. 5: Pekin Invite

Oct. 8; vs. DCM*

Oct. 14: vs. Brimfield

Oct. 15: @ Tremont*

Oct. 17; vs. Ridgeview*

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

Oct. 28-29 & 31: Regional

*-HOIC match

Notes: Dohner comes for a large family tree as it pertains to coaching. Her husband (Aaron Dohner, father (Tim Meiss) and brother (Nathaniel Meiss), are currently head coaches in boys’ golf at Eureka, boys’ basketball at Eureka and boys’ hoops at EP-G, respectively. Her father-in-law, Mark Dohner, who stands 6-foot-10, played on collegiately at Bradley from 1972 to ’75. He scored 2,090 points on the prep level at tiny Table Grove VIT, where he returned to coach and among his players was his son. Lena Dohner is the fourth ex-Hornets’ player to oversee the program as she joins Heffren, Trish (Jording) Wierenga and Kim (Schumacher) Willi. The other rookie head coach in the HOIC is Drew Robertson (Heyworth). The most wins for a first-year Hornets’ coach is 19 set by Denise Torbert in ‘89.

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