Riding a historic season high, the Herscher Tigers volleyball team advanced to the Sectional Championship to face a summer opponent in the Spartans of St. Joseph Ogden. After topping Tolono Unity in two consecutive sets (27-25, 25-21), the Tigers continued a playoff run twenty-one years in the making as the last sweet sixteen appearance was in 1998. 

During the summer heading into this school year, the Tigers fell to the Spartans twice in a tournament in Parkland, in two sets during pool play, and in three during the championship. They came into this game with the intentions to right those wrongs and top the Spartans when the result really mattered.

The Watseka gymnasium packed quickly for the matchup of the two heavy-hitting teams in the sectional. The opening set, however, did not go as planned for Coach Joel Huizenga’s Tigers. The Spartans came out quick and hard as the Tigers fell into an early hole. The set seemed to be eerily similar to the first set against Beecher in the Regional Championship. The Tigers were unable to get out of the rut they found themselves in and ended up losing the set 25-19.

The second set though, was a different story. The Tigers jumped on the confident Spartans going up 6-1 in the second set and not letting up from there. The Tigers continued to dominate the set and capitalized on seemingly every Spartan mistake. St. Joe never got within four points of the Tigers. The Tigers buried the Spartans 25-12 and carried the momentum into the third set.

The third set would be a decisive one, as the winner would be taking home the plaque and advancing to the Super-Sectional game. The Tigers continued their court prowess throughout the first four points of the third set going up 4-0 starting with a Claudia Huston ace. 

Senior Olivia Ruder said, “Going into the third set, I was fired up.  The hopes were high after that set and were especially high when we jumped to a 4-0 lead.”

Then the Spartans saw what they were about to lose, and picked up the pace. The Spartans jumped ahead to an 11-10 lead and the Tigers began to waver. The two teams tied again at 13 before the Spartans once again pulled off.

The Spartans stopped at their twenty-fourth point, and the Tigers showed one last fight. They scrambled back from a flurry of serves from Olivia Ruder and the Tigers now trailed by only one. At a score of 24-23, the Tigers had a chance to kill for the win but the Spartans dug up the kill and sent a ball through a block and to the Tigers’ side of the hardwood sending the Tigers home in a three set loss. 

Maddy Rogers shares, “Even though we came up short in the third set, I still think it’s one of the best games we played all season. I’m so proud of how far we came as a team. I couldn’t have asked for a better team this season!”