Newton coach Jill Kistner wondered if her team hadn't seen the last of Shelbyville and Pana after the Effingham St. Anthony Invite in September, and after seeing the sub-sectional seeds in October, she was almost certain all three were on a collision course for the Class 2A Shelbyville Sectional today.
"We talked about that before we even got into regionals," Kistner said. "Not that we were looking ahead by any means, but as you look through, it's like, Oh, wow, Pana's going to be a No. 1 seed and Shelbyville if they get there, it's going to be a very St. Anthony tournament-like repeat in the sectional.
"We'll have fresher legs this time."
Shelbyville, Newton and Pana finished 1-2-3, respectively, at the St. Anthony Invite on Sept. 19 and all played each other. Shelbyville beat both on its way to the title, Newton split and Pana lost both -- taking Newton to three sets.
Newton and Pana meet again in the semifinals at 7 p.m. today. Shelbyville plays the unfamiliar Piasa Southwestern first.
"I think all three of us are very similar teams with power and many different hitters we can go to. Pana doesn't have one stud to go to all the time, Shelbyville's the same way and we are very similar," Kistner said.
"Shelbyville put up the best block and had the best defense behind it. That gave them the best edge on both of us. This time, I think it's going to come down to something very, very similar. We'll all come with offense, and it's going to be the team that plays the best defense behind that offense."
All three coaches are excited about rematches outside of the weekend tournament format. The teams at the St. Anthony Invite played five games in a day, which Pana coach Greg Cothern said affected everyone's play.
"When you look at somebody on the day of a five-match tournament, you really can't get a feel for what they're going to be like on a one-match night," Cothern said. "It's nice to be able to know your opponent or possible opponents, but at this point in the game ... I'm sure they've improved."
Pana and Shelbyville were under the same roof again for the Shelbyville/Pana Invite Oct. 10, but missed each other in the knockout rounds.
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"We didn't really get a chance to see them," Cothern said. "They were in the opposite gym. It wasn't conducive to get to see the other team play."
Newton and Pana know each other even better than the one tournament meeting. Kistner and Cothern bring a tournament together during the summer, and there they're able to get an early look at each other's teams.
Then, at St. Anthony, Kistner recalled a back-and-forth game. Newton came out hot and took the first set 25-15, then Pana heated up to tie it, 25-11, and take an early lead in the decisive frame. But Newton came back, 17-15.
"I don't expect things much different," said Kistner, who mentioned she has been going back over the film of that matchup with her team.
"We talk about it a lot -- we actually filmed that game and I go back and watch it. We talk about, as a team, what they run, where the set's coming from, where hitters like to hit, how our block needs to setup around that. You make changes as the year goes on to get better with that."
Shelbyville drew the blind matchup with Piasa Southwestern.
"It's nice to have a little bit of familiarity, but I think what it really comes down to is you've still got to play and have to do whatever is necessary to win," Shelbyville coach Lisa Peifer said. "When we saw those two teams, it was very early in the season, so that makes a little bit of a difference there.
"I have no idea about Piasa."
Cothern knows a little bit. Pana played Piasa in a three-set win for its second game of the year. Piasa became the second best team in the South Central.
"When we played them, it was their first match of the season -- I'm sure they had first-game jitters going on," Cothern said. "They settled in, did a good job of passing and digging balls up that were hit hard at them and getting hands on the ball and of being relentless in not letting that ball drop."