NORMAL — Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg proved to be a great team in its run to the Class 1A state title game, but the Hatchets hadn't faced a team like Payson-Seymour this season.
Making its first appearance as the sports co-op of Windsor and Stewardson-Strasburg, the Hatchets fell to a better team Saturday at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University, 25-12, 27-25.
"That is definitely the strongest, fastest team we have played this season and I want to say almost the last two seasons," said WSS coach Ronda Schlechte. "Their attack was powerful and they could get around our block and we couldn't get around them. Our defense was never in the right spot for their hits.
"They were very smart as far as where they placed their volleyballs. I feel like they kept us out of system most of the time which kind of hurt us as far as getting some good attacks going."
In the second set the Hatchets used a 7-0 run to take their first lead of the match. Mackenzie Tabbert served six straight points after a kill by Megan Schlechte. Tabbert's run including the only aces of the match for WSS.
The Hatchets led 21-18 when Payson scored four straight points to take the lead. WSS tied it on a kill by Tabbert, and didn't go quietly after Payson came within a point of winning with a 24-22 lead.
Kasey Bean, one of four seniors for the Hatchets, earned a kill, and a block by another senior, Maria Gentry, tied the game. Bean and Gentry combined for a block to put WSS within one point of forcing a third set.
However, it was not to be as Payson's Hylee Schmiedeskamp's kill tied the set for the ninth time. Josie Standford, a 6-1 senior, smashed a kill off to tie it and Schmeideskamp ended the match with a kill off a set by Melina Tedrow.
"This is what the mental game looks like," said Payson coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow, who guided Payson to its first state championship in any sport at the school. "Unfortunately in the world today and in sports I think we are missing the mental game. I think it is a huge part of it. I think these ladies would agree with me. Maybe they went kicking and screaming into mental, but I told them this is what it was going to take and they believed in us and we created a program that was going to work and I think it worked."
Rhonda Schlecthe said she was happy with the way her team played in the second set, but it wasn't enough.
"We just tried to get the girls up," Rhonda Schlechte said. "You know they were disappointed from the first set, but they were able to battle back that second set. I would have loved to have had one more opportunity to play them for a third set even if we came out with a loss that was going to give us a little bit more opportunity to see what we could do with them."
WSS finished 34-7 and made its second straight trip to state after placing third last year. Stew-Stras played in four previous state championships, finishing as the runner-up in 1984 and 85 in Class A in the two-class system, and in Class 1A in 2013. Stew-Stras won the Class A title in 1986.
"This year we overcame a lot of injuries and played more as a team," said Tabbert of last year to this year.
Tabbert finished with 12 assists, while senior Taylor Rentfro was tops in digs with six.
Payson had beaten the two teams in the Class 2A state title game — Quincy Notre Dame (25-13, 25-20) and St. Thomas More (25-23, 27-25).