NORMAL — Let's say you're able to neutralize Boston College recruit Alayna Crabtree, Winthrop-bound Isabel Schaefbauer and 6-foot-3 Maycie Welborn.
You still have to account for Lily Barry, one of the most fearless and high-flying freshman outside hitters around.
No foe in the 41st annual Intercity Volleyball Tournament could do all of those tasks as University High School repeated as champion Saturday.
The Pioneers (19-3) went 4-0 and had the title clinched after three rounds as host Normal West (12-9) and Normal Community (10-6) tied for second at 2-2 while Central Catholic (3-18) and Bloomington (8-13) tied for fourth at 1-3.
"They just have a lot coming from everywhere," said NCHS coach Christine Konopasek referring to the Pioneers.
"Alayna Crabtree does a really nice job. She hits line really well and she's big (at 6-2). Isabel is really smart. She does a nice job with the offense. Lily Barry doesn't play like she's a freshman. When you're able to put three or four players like that on the court — and that's not to shortchange anyone else — you should be good."
Led by several returnees from last year's 29-8 Class 3A Sweet Sixteen team, U High was the only Intercity entrant to avoid playing a three-set match. It was the Pioneers' 10th outright Intercity title to go with five shared crowns.
"We know from an offensive standpoint, we're going to be tough," said Pioneer coach Mike Bolhuis. "It's just a matter of 'can we match our defense to that offense and give ourselves as many opportunities to let that offense be on all cylinders?'"
The answer all day was "yes."
Crabtree led the way with 43 kills and 23 digs on the day while Schaefbauer had 63 assists and 14 kills. The precocious Barry added 26 kills and 15 digs while the net-minding Welborn swatted 20 kills.
"Intercity is always a challenging, but super fun tournament," Schaefbauer said. "Getting to play against people you know is always interesting. I thought we played very well today; very consistent."
Crabtree said the Pioneers, who've won seven straight matches, work hard in practice.
"I think it's been paying off," she said. "We've been playing pretty well."
The Pioneers opened with a 25-19, 25-14 victory over Normal West before topping NCHS, 25-15, 25-16; BHS, 25-8, 25-17, and Central Catholic, 25-11, 25-11.
"It's just about getting better each time that we play," Bolhuis said. "We have little things we try to tweak and make better. You never know if you're good enough."
NCHS opened with a pair of three-setters, beating Central, 17-25, 25-11, 25-10, before falling to West, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21. The Lady Iron ended with a 25-19, 25-17 win over BHS.
"Today was a growth day for us," said Konopasek, whose leaders were Kate Kraft (35 kills) and the Feeney sisters, Sophia (51 assists) and Madison (33 digs, 5 aces).
The Wildcats' second three-setter, an 11-25, 25-22, 25-21 win over BHS, preceded a 25-17, 25-22 loss to Central. West's leaders were 6-1 sophomore Averie Hernandez (53 kills, 10 blocks), Tyler Stark (61 assists) and Aniya Monla (39 digs, 4 aces).
"I thought the other teams that were here played really well," said West coach Kelsey Mueller. "It was good to see good competition."
Bloomington's only win was a 25-19, 25-9 decision over Central. Pacing the Purple Raiders were Lauren Strange (35 kills), Corinna Jones (63 assists) and Fia Parker (51 digs).
"We've just got to play tougher," said BHS coach Joe Sanders. "It was kind of the same thing that's been plaguing us all year: trying to find offense when we don't have a great offense."
The Saints were led by Abby Cox (18 kills, 4 aces), Sierra Godsey (30 assists) and Sydney Adams (34 digs). Coach Teresa Ulrich hopes to see more of the fire her Class 2A team displayed against Class 4A West.