ARTHUR — It finally dawned on Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond's Abby Foreman after starting the year with six straight wins.
The senior middle hitter realized, "Oh wow, we're pretty good."
The Knights weren't used to that kind of success and managed a 12-15 record just the previous year.
“They came into the season unsure after having a rough season last year as far as wins and losses — not sure they could beat a lot of these teams,” Arthur coach Emily Crossman said. “Once we beat Tuscola in the first game and got on our initial win streak, their confidence grew and they were unstoppable at that point.”
As Arthur-Lovington, it had won three straight regional titles from 2011 to 2013.
But it then underwent a difficult transition: not only consolidation with Atwood-Hammond and a bump up to Class 2A but also a new coach, Crossman.
It wasn't an easy process.
“It was an adjustment period for us,” Crossman said. “I think we're kind of back in the groove and they are all mixed together. That's the new normal now. We can focus on skills and the team rather than those other variables.”
It's turned into a blessing for Crossman. She has a much deeper lineup than what Arthur's had in the past — and they're mostly young, too.
Out of 19 players on the roster, just two are seniors — Foreman and libero Kim Davis.
“It always helps to have a bigger pool of girls to choose from and get the best talent from all of the surrounding areas,” Crossman said. “We're 2A, but there's more competition on the team and that helps us to improve.”
They've improved exponentially, charging out to a 17-3 record and ending the regular season 22-6 after a grueling tournament at Champaign St. Thomas More.
“It's been a great senior year,” Foreman said. “I couldn't imagine it going better. From the past years, we struggled a lot and this year, we just became very strong and it's been amazing winning that many games and coming into regionals knowing that we have a chance.”
Both Foreman and Davis arrived at Arthur from Atwood their sophomore years and have started since.
They been pivotal to the Knights' growing success and lead the team on opposite sides of the spectrum — Foreman in the front and Davis in the back.
“They're great leaders and good girls who care about the team,” Crossman said. “They care about their teammates as people and they're great competitors and they're just very talented athletically.”
Foreman has been the consistent power hitter for the Knights. She typically logs around 10 kills each match.
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Her other strength is blocking.
But Foreman insists her younger front row teammates are just as capable.
Especially junior setter Madison Brown.
Brown batted down seven blocks to go along with her 29 assists during a critical three-set victory against Sangamon Valley in the Little Okaw Vally Conference Tournament.
“I think as a team we have a lot of hitters and blockers, so it's not just one outstanding player,” Foreman said. “Together, we are a strong team. That's what makes us so great. If somebody is having a bad day, that doesn't ruin the whole game.”
Davis is the loud one on the floor.
That's not a jab.
That's just her job and she enjoys it — a lot.
“I think I've just been a loud person in general — just not even in volleyball,” Davis said with a laugh. “I just kind of try to support people as much as I can to make them feel better, so I do it loudly I guess.
“I think it's really fun. I enjoy kind of getting real crazy and having a good time and making the most of it.”
Foreman and Davis go back to sixth grade and together their chemistry has been essential for the team to coalesce.
“It's unique to have seniors only from one of the elementary schools and stick it through the whole four years,” Crossman said. “They were successful in their elementary and junior high program. They had gone to state and they were very athletic. I'm glad the two of them have stuck it out for all four years here.”
The No. 3-seeded Knights now feel good about their chances for a regional title and first host No. 5 Fithian Oakwood.
If they notch a win, they will likely face No. 2 Tri-County.
Arthur has already gone 3-1 against Tri-County this season, including a three-set triumph for the LOVC tournament crown earlier this month.
The Knights aren't concerned about their recent regional drought, either. They have a much different take on it.
“I don't think it's frustrating,” Davis said. “It's exciting to maybe be one of the people who might do it and be the first team since the school consolidated.”