The Amboy volleyball team may or may not reach great heights in the 2013 season.
It already knows what the deepest depths feel like, in the form of an 0-33 record in 2012.
"It was kind of embarrassing, actually," senior middle hitter Hannah McCoy said, "coming off the court every single game knowing that we just lost and I tried my hardest."
"I just kind of looked at it as I'm preparing for next year," added senior outside hitter Micaela McCoy, Hannah's cousin. "I tried my hardest and gave it my all every game, every practice, and hopefully it would lead me into a better season."
That better season has arrived. Heading into tonight's home game vs. Fulton, the Clippers own a 10-14-1 record, and first-year varsity head coach Nichole Stenzel could hardly be happier.
"They've done everything I've asked them to all year long," Stenzel said, "because they didn't want to repeat that. They wanted to get up out of that gutter."
The Clippers bonded this summer at the Millikin Tournament in Decatur and the Westwood League in Sterling, as well as an in-house volleyball camp and open-gym sessions. When the season came around in early September, Amboy was ready.
For Stenzel, a key moment was in the first match. They lost in three sets to Prophetstown, but improvement was evident.
"We didn't finish," Stenzel said, "but to know that we could step out there with another team and compete, that was big. That was our first goal this season – just to be able to compete with people, and I think we've done that pretty well."
Stenzel has tinkered with the lineup as the season has progressed. For starters, Kennedy Dinges has gone from libero to a hitting position.
"She's played a heck of a lot better, getting out of that red jersey," Stenzel said.
Kaitlyn Liebing, who started as an outside hitter, now concentrates on defense and serving.
"She's just tearing it up in the back row," Stenzel said of Liebing. "There's not a lot of balls that go down around her right now."
Destinee Oenes is the new libero, after initially struggling to find her niche.
"She hadn't seen much court time the first half of the season," Stenzel said, "but she's come out the second half and played well for us. I think changing up our defense and putting people in different spots is what's helping us the second half."
The season highlight for the Clippers happened this past weekend at the Dixon Invitational, where they finished third against much larger schools. In pool play, Amboy topped the host Duchesses 20-17, 19-21, 15-13; lost to Sterling 20-8, 20-5; and defeated Dunlap 20-17, 20-15.
"When we got that first game from Dixon, we were thrilled," said Stenzel, who noted Amboy hadn't won so much as a game in three previous appearances at the Dixon Invite. "That was a success for us. We stuck with it, and when we beat Dixon, I think that was the biggest match of the season. We knew we could do it then."
In the semifinals, Amboy got roughed up by LaSalle-Peru 20-11, 20-7. The Clippers rebounded, however, to take a rematch against Sterling 20-13, 20-15 in the third-place match.
"It was a great feeling, knowing that we worked our hardest and never gave up," Hannah McCoy said.
"The girls played with confidence, and they just kept battling," Stenzel said. "We were so happy to walk out of there with third place. For us, that's a big deal."
The next step for the Clippers will be to exert themselves against Three Rivers North competition. Amboy is just 1-10 against league foes, with that lone win against Morrison.
"We have a real confidence problem when it comes to the conference," Stenzel said. "Our conference is a good conference for volleyball, and right now I don't know that it's so much a skill issue as it is a confidence issue. We're going three games half the time, but we're not pulling it out. I think we've done a lot of things to build our confidence, but it would be nice to get a few more of those in the book."
Then there is the postseason. Instead of merely playing out the string like a year ago, the Clippers view themselves as a playoff threat. They are the third seed in the Somonauk Regional, and open with Ottawa Marquette on Tuesday, Oct. 29.
"We know we can take regionals," Micaela McCoy said. "It'll be a competition, but we know we can do it and push through it. Hopefully we get one of these banners up in our gym."
• 10 wins in 2013, after going 0-33 in 2012
• Placed third at Dixon Invite, with wins vs. Dixon, Sterling and Dunlap
• No. 3 seed at Somonauk Regional