CHAMPAIGN — A strong first set seemed to put Bloomington High School in position to avenge last year's regional final loss to Pekin.
But the No. 2-seeded Dragons refocused and regained their fire, riding 16 kills and 13 digs from star senior Hannah Thompson to a 20-25, 25-17, 25-18 victory Thursday for the Class 4A Champaign Centennial Regional title.
"The first game was kind of shaky, but then everybody stepped up the second and third game and I'm very proud of them," said Pekin coach Yvonne Thompson, whose 29-7 team advanced to face Normal Community in the Chatham Glenwood Sectional semifinals on Monday.
"We made a lot of errors, hitting errors, unforced errors," said disappointed BHS coach Joe Sanders, whose third-seeded team got 17 kills from junior Leah Anderson and nine from senior Ellie Weltha in bowing out at 24-12.
"It's a good season. We won our conference and we've got six juniors coming back, so we'll be good next year."
A back-and-forth start to the first set saw Pekin take the first two-point advantage of the match at 6-4, but the Purple Raiders used a six-point surge to move ahead 11-8 and didn't look back. A tip by Anderson closed the set with BHS getting four kills from Weltha and a pair of aces from Bailey McGill.
"We were running the slide real well, which is normal," said Sanders. "But we kind of went away from it a little bit and we didn't change anything. There were no adjustments. The offense, there was no adjustments made anywhere."
The Dragons never trailed in the second, jumping out to a 4-1 start before the teams alternated eight consecutive volleys. BHS pulled even at twice at 8-8 and 14-14 before Pekin went on a 7-0 run to seize control.
"Our service needed to pick up some, and we talked about how you can determine the tempo of the game just by that first pass," Coach Thompson said of her team dropping the first set.
"We did a very good job of setting everybody tonight and mixing up shots. They didn't know what was going to come; it wasn't to one particular player. Hannah did step up and hit some good shots, hard swings at a crucial time."
Pekin charged to a 9-3 margin in the deciding set, forcing Sanders to burn a timeout. The Raiders clawed back within 21-17, but the Dragons closed the door with Anna McGovern's kill on match point.
"You're not going to beat, you're not going to come back against Hannah Thompson," said Sanders. "She's going to find a way to score enough points for them to win, and that's what she did."
McGill had 10 digs and sophomore setter Corinna Jones booked 22 assists for BHS. McGovern chipped in 11 kills for the Dragons, who got 17 assists from Molly Flannigan.
"A win's a win but it all starts fresh tomorrow. We want to make it to the next level," said Coach Thompson. "There's enough determination in these five seniors that the other girls are feeding off that and they really want it this year."