COAL CITY – Winning often – and running into highly-touted private-school competition in the postseason – is becoming a theme for Emily Halliday’s teams during her senior year.
A 23-win girls volleyball season for Halliday and the Coal City Coalers ended with a 25-9, 25-21 sectional-final loss to Wheaton St. Francis in November. Those scores may not seem particularly close, but nobody played St. Francis tighter as it rolled to a Class 3A state championship.
In basketball, the 26-1 Coalers will face one of the best No. 3-seeded teams in the state, Providence, in a regional semifinal at Morris next week. Their “reward” for winning would likely be the chance to play Joliet Catholic Academy, which is ranked second in the state in the latest Associated Press Class 3A poll.
Before Thursday’s regular-season finale, a 40-25 win over Herscher, Halliday spoke with the Morris Daily Herald.
Q. Did you expect this senior year to go as well as it has for you in sports? The volleyball team, doing what it did – it took maybe the best team in the state to get you out – and then 25 straight wins in basketball. Did you expect all of this?
A. I honestly didn’t. I’ve played with these girls since sixth grade, so I knew what we were capable of then, and we were pretty good all through middle school. I knew once we were all back together, we would be good, but I honestly didn’t know that we were going to have as successful a season in volleyball, making it to the sectional championship. Sucks that we had to go against the state-title winner. I knew we’d be good, but not as successful as we are.
I thought with losing Donjetta [Shabani], we would have like a bigger disadvantage this year, but we bounced back, and we’re better than ever.
Q. Why did you bounce back? What’s this year’s team done to compensate for her loss?
A. We’ve pushed the ball more. Maddie [Bunton] and Britta [Spelde] can both take the posts, like driving them and stuff. We just play a totally different game than we did last year.
Q. When you look back at the experiences you’ve had with this group of girls, what stands out? Are the best memories from this year so far, or are they from the past?
A. Definitely this year. We’ve won three championships, I’ve got to share with them, and each one was just as memorable. I don’t know. I’m going to miss them next year.
The Lisle one was definitely a big one, but I think probably the most memorable was conference, just because we did come out and just play amazing. We didn’t expect to beat Peotone by that much. We all played so good. That one was probably the best one.
Playing them twice, we knew it was going to be a tough game. [Peotone] knew exactly what we were doing. We knew exactly what they were doing. It was just a matter of who came to play, and each and every one of us came to play that night. We all played awesome defense. We all scored. We all just worked together as a team, because we knew our goal was to win that conference tournament.
Q. Was there a time in seventh grade, eighth grade where you were just really hitting it and teams couldn’t touch you?
A. In eighth grade, we made it to state, I think we played Minooka for the regional championship. That was like the state-title game for us because they were always our biggest rival throughout middle school, and they always had beat us in basketball. We finally beat them by like two points at like the last few minutes of the game. That was probably the next-best, most-exciting moment.
Q. Going back to volleyball, nobody played Wheaton St. Francis as close as you guys did. Is there some consolation in that? Have you been able to look at the loss and say, ‘Hey, we just ran into a true juggernaut there?’
A. Yeah. We were all saying after the game, yeah, it was sad that it was over, but we were pretty confident that they were going to be the ones that won state. To say that you got your season ended by the state-title winner, everyone’s going to be like, ‘Oh, wow, you played a close game with them.’ The state-championship game was like 25-7 or something, and we scored more points than that. We could have held our own against them, but we just came up short.
Q. Are you going to play sports in college? Are you still actively looking, and how’s the search going?
A. I thought about it for a while earlier in the season, but I decided that I’m not going to. At first, I really didn’t know what I wanted to major in or what I wanted to be when I was older, and then I kind of got an idea, so I just wanted to focus on my schooling, not have any other distractions and other priorities, just like focus on what I gotta do and get it over with and be ready.
Q. Do you have a specific major in mind?
A. I’m going to Eastern [Illinois University] to major in speech pathology.
Q. Anything you’re still hoping to do in sports, knowing that organized are probably ending for you at the end of this year?
A. Definitely get to the regional championship, give JCA or whoever we play against a run for their money, hopefully win, go onto the state tournament. That’s the best we can do right now, and obviously beat Herscher, too – win the conference outright.