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Minooka's roller-coaster season ends suddenly

NORMAL — It seemed that everything was heading in the right way for the Minooka girls volleyball team.

The Indians had come off an incredible 29-27 Game 2 victory to win a regional title Thursday and had a big experience edge over their opponent Tuesday, Normal West, going into the sectional semifinal at Normal Community High School.

The Wildcats didn't buy in to the hype, though, as they were able to take down the Indians 25-16, 25-16, ending Minooka's season with a 23-12 record.

Game 1 started out even between the two teams, as each traded points early. With the game tied at 3, though, Normal West took over The Wildcats went on a 14-1 run, taking the tied game to a 17-4 advantage in favor of Normal West.

"I think we put the pressure on them and forced them to make plays," Normal West head coach Kelsey Drendel said. "Volleyball is such a momentum game, where one play can spark your team, and I think that's what we did. We forced those mistakes on them."

That 14-1 run featured a 12-point spurt by Normal West sophomore Jill Paska, one of the younger players who stepped up for the Wildcats Tuesday night.

"We were just off tonight," Minooka coach Chris Hoelscher said. "They were very good, and we just couldn't get ourselves together on our side."

Minooka rallied from the big deficit and made it a game late, but it was not enough as the Wildcats took care of business in Game 1 with a 25-16 victory. Although they had lost game one, spirits were still high on the Minooka bench.

"We just tried to remain positive and wanted to end on a good note," senior Tessa Griparis said. "We just wanted to keep going and go back out there with more energy."

Minooka opened Game 2 with a bang, going up 4-1 at the outset. From there, however, Normal West rallied, slowly tying the game before taking the lead for good at 7-6. The Wildcats went on mini runs all throughout the game, eventually taking it to 24-16 before putting the final touches on the Indians.

"They played a great match," Hoelscher said of Normal West Tuesday night. "They were a very good team and played hard. We played hard as well, just couldn't get anything going."

With the win, Normal West advances to the sectional final, where it will play Edwardsville for the sectional title game. The ride has been almost improbable for the Wildcats, as this is their first time they've made it this far in the postseason since 2001.

"We try not to think about our inexperience or let it get to them," Drendel said. "They're just going out there and playing volleyball. Maybe it just hasn't hit them yet how far we've come."

The loss ends the Minooka season at 23-12, a season filled with a lot of ups and downs for the Indians. From a subpar Southwest Prairie Conference season, to the thrill of winning the regional title, it was surely an unpredictable season all year for Minooka.

"I'm really proud of the way our team played this year," Griparis said. "Regionals was one of the best experiences of my life, and I know I can walk away saying that we did our best."

"This team really came together," Hoelscher added. "They were one for all, all for one, and they battled with that all year. We really came together at the end and we had a great postseason run. It was fun."

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