It’s never easy when a season comes to an end, especially when it happens unexpectedly.
The Rock Falls volleyball team was hoping to challenge for a regional title, and maybe make a long postseason run this season. And while that came to an abrupt end with a 25-18, 6-25, 25-12 loss to IVC in Tuesday’s semifinals at the 3A Mendota Regional, there was still a silver lining as the players looked ahead to next season.
“We have so many young players coming back,” junior middle Kenzie Olson said. “We’re only losing five seniors, and all the underclassmen that are coming up next year, we can only go up from here.”
The tough regional loss was just the latest lesson for a Rock Falls team that has spent the season getting to know each other and working to get on the same page, with a lot of new faces trying to gel. It’s been a process that has had longtime coach Sheila Mammosser preaching patience all season long, and one that was starting to show the fruits of their labors the past few weeks.
“The growth of this team has been amazing,” junior hitter/
setter Payton Yanes said. “They’ve been the best team I’ve played for in a long time. Sheila said the entire season that it doesn’t matter what you do in August or September, it’s where you are in October, and we got to the point where we were ready to play, and play well.”
Good times never seemed so good: For a moment, the Sterling volleyball team’s important focus of winning a regional championship was no match for doing what most girls do when hearing the dulcet tones of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
Sterling had just beaten Metamora 25-18 in the first set of the 3A Geneseo Regional championship, but only after pulling away late when the Cardinals kept hanging on after the 20th point. “Sweet Caroline” was the segue music played in the gym between sets, and when the chorus started with, “Hands, touching hands,” all of the Golden Warrior players started to scream out the lyrics in unison.
“Reaching out, touching me, touching you …
“Sweet Caroline, da, da, da …”
The point of it all was to cool down and have fun before focusing on the second set – one that felt a little easier, as Sterling allowed five fewer points on its way to its fifth straight regional title and a new school record for wins (35).
“We got upbeat and we were just loud and cheering,” freshman outside hitter Brooklyn Borum said, “and I think we got in their heads.”
Tough adjustment: No one ever wants to see a player injured, even on an opposing team. It’s even worse when that injury comes to a key player at a crucial time.
Such was the case with the AFC volleyball team, who saw floor leader and 4-year varsity player Emily Shrimplin, the Raiders’ two-time all-conference setter – go down with an ACL injury 2 weeks before the start of the postseason.
First-year Eastland coach Kelsey Pierce, whose mother, Kristy, is now an assistant at AFC, expressed her sympathies to Shrimplin and the Raiders for their loss.
“I know poor AFC is hurting because they lost their starting setter, who is a wonderful young lady and I feel for her terribly,” Pierce said. “That’s just so tough for her personally, and her teammates as well.”
The Raiders also lost their longtime coach following Thursday’s 25-10, 25-20 loss to Eastland, as Jan Cupp is retiring after 31 seasons at the helm. But the fight and character she saw out of her team bodes well for the future, as AFC loses only three seniors.
“I’ve got a young team out there, so hopefully that will pay off for them next year,” Cupp said.