VANDALIA — Friends and family tried to cool down Newton standout Mallory Bergbower.
One used an improvised fan while another handed her a bag of ice.
Bergbower wasn't overwhelmed by her team's thrilling 25-23, 25-22 victory over Shelbyville for the Eagles' first Class 2A sectional title since 2008.
She had the flu.
“I woke up the other day and I was feeling really, really bad,” Bergbower said, resting in a chair. “But I ended up pulling through and feeling a little better (before the game). I knew I had to for the team because we had to win sectionals. I knew this was the year we were going to do it. We have a really strong team, we fought and we really believed. That was key.”
She felt worse by the end of the night. But how did she feel about the game?
“I feel awesome about the game,” Bergbower said.
The sophomore outside hitter didn't hold back and even rallied Newton from behind late in the first set.
Shelbyville (29-10) initially dominated — particularly behind senior middle hitter Maddie Holland — and cruised to a 22-17 lead.
Then Bergbower stepped up to the service line.
She dished up five consecutive service points and three aces for a shocking 23-22 advantage. Newton junior middle hitter Abby Frohning later tipped the ball over Shelbyville's formidable blockers to finish off the rally.
“They have an amazing defense,” Bergbower said. “I knew that their block and defense was extremely good and coach (Jill) Kistner told us at practice yesterday the main thing would be to take them out of their serve receive and get the ball away from their hitters. I knew that's where we had to capitalize. I put most of my focus on my serving and went back to the line and I just went for it every time.”
That fueled Newton through the second set.
“Volleyball is such a momentum game,” Newton coach Jill Kistner said. “We were down in the beginning and we've been down a lot in the postseason. I don't know why my girls like to play from behind, but they don't have any quit in them.”
Bergbower, who has led the Eagles in kills and digs throughout the year, delivered eight kills and four aces — not to mention four digs.
“She has a lot of guts,” Kistner said.
Newton (35-3) will next play Belleville Althoff in the Trenton Wesclin Super-Sectional at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Will Bergbower be able to make it?
“Oh yeah, I'll be back,” Bergbower said.
Shelbyville gave up a staggering nine aces in the loss.
Holland started hot early but faded with fewer passes going her direction. Holland and Sydney Miller each finished with six kills. Caylee Wheeler and Jacque Johnston provided 11 and 10 assists, respectively.
“Once our passing broke down, we couldn't get the ball to her,” Shelbyville coach Lisa Peifer said of Holland. “The pass wasn't good enough to be able to work the middle. Once we lost Maddie on that, she got frustrated and everyone got frustrated that we couldn't give her the ball.”
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The Rams were chasing a second consecutive trip to the state finals with seven seniors on the roster.
They couldn't make it in Peifer's 19th and final season at Shelbyville.
“It's a bittersweet way to go out,” Peifer said. “But I'm really proud of this team and what they've accomplished. There's nothing to hang your head about. How could I complain?”
Don't call it an upset.
The Eagles have a great blend of young playmakers and steady veterans.
The junior Abby Frohning was electric on the floor and followed Bergbower with five kills and two aces.
Setter Grace Hartrich and libero Kristen Hardiek were equally dependable seniors. Hartrich had 17 assists while Hardiek recorded 10 digs.
“We are extremely athletic this year and we're kind of young because Abby's only a junior and Mallory's a sophomore,” Kistner said. “I have really good senior leadership out there, though. You can tell. They kept it calm when we were down. I really appreciate all four seniors that we have.”
The Eagles bowed out to Shelbyville in a sectional final last year, 25-20 and 28-26.
Even though Newton dropped two more matches to the Rams during the regular season on the same day in the Effingham St. Anthony Invite, Kistner didn't forget about it.
She bagged her first sectional title this time around in her fourth season with the Eagles.
“I was pretty nervous coming into today,” Kistner said. “I'm usually a pretty calm person. I wanted just as much as they did. We all work so hard. It's all for them and I do it for them. It feels really great as a coach. But I couldn't be happier for the 13 girls who are on varsity.”
On the flip side, it's not easy to beat the same team three times — actually, make that four times.
“To beat a team three times is really hard,” Peifer said. “I thought the kids were prepared. We jumped on them, took a lead and we were doing everything that we worked on during practice.”
Both sides knew it was Peifer's final season.
Kistner more than just admired the longtime coach.
“They're a really great team,” Kistner said. “I was talking to their coach afterwards and I have a ton of respect for her. I'm a young coach and this is my fourth year at Newton. As a head coach, I like to look to other head coaches who do a good job and take things from their book. I've done that from Shelbyville's coach for a few years because she's been so successful and she has a great program. It was huge to get to beat them.”