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Local volleyball teams on track for new levels of success

Girls volleyball is one of the few sports in which I’ve never covered a local team or individual competing at or en route to a state final.

For the past decade, our area has mostly consisted of teams that are perennially decent.

There are exceptions. Everybody’s had a down year or three in that time, and Gardner-South Wilmington, for one, has rarely threatened the .500 barrier.

About halfway through the season, 2013 is shaping up as a season in which every local team has a chance to be better than they’ve been, on average, for the past several years.

For some, that means winning records and regional-championship appearances are possible.

I’ll start with the team I mentioned in a negative light above.

The Lady Panthers struggled to win even a handful of games virtually every year that I’ve been at the paper. They’ve already more than doubled last season’s four wins, as they moved to 7-3 with a 12-25, 25-19, 25-16 at Tri-Point Thursday.

It’s a good record, but it’s not the best in the area. That title, through Thursday’s action, goes to Newark, which is 11-2 following a 25-13, 25-14 rout of Serena. Everybody else is above .500 with room to spare.

Seneca is 13-4-1. Minooka and Coal City, despite killer early nonconference schedules, are 9-4 and 8-4, respectively. Morris is 9-6.

Even though Morris has the area’s “worst” record to date, things are looking up for the Redskins after this week.

They lost 27-25, 21-25, 25-20 at Yorkville Tuesday before defeating Sycamore 24-26, 28-26, 25-15 Thursday at home.

I asked coach Jackie Litwiller if she knew her team was capable of the kind of comeback it made Thursday, when it shrugged off a very tough first-game loss.

“You know what, after Tuesday night in Yorkville, I knew anything was possible with this group, because we played one heck of a match up in Yorkville,” Litwiller said. “If we can play that away, then we can do anything at home. And so that’s what I kept bringing back to them, you know, ‘You’re in your gym. You need to take control. Let’s do this. We’re on our court.’ And I think they showed you what they can do.”

What’s more, regional assignments were posted this week by the IHSA.

After hosting one of the toughest (quite possibly the toughest) 3A regional in the state last year, Morris will be at Streator with La Salle-Peru, Mendota and Princeton.

Our other 3A school, Coal City, which also got sent through the gauntlet at Morris last spring, will be at Manteno with three other Interstate Eight Conference schools, McNamara and Kankakee before hosting its own sectional.

Minooka gets to go west and south, to the 4A Ottawa Regional and the Normal West Sectional, instead of the suburban route.

Seneca drew the 2A Somonauk Regional and a field that includes rival Marquette. In 1A, Newark avoided drawing mighty Keith Country Day in its sectional and will start at the Hinckley-Big Rock Regional, while GSW is sent to Grant Park.

All of this is to say that, while it’s been an extremely successful volleyball season to date for our local teams, the best could be yet to come. For everybody.

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