SHELBYVILLE -- It's been a long wait for Shelbyville.
For this year's senior class, there may not have been a more successful volleyball team that lacked the postseason hardwood to show for it.
After four years where the Rams have now won 107 games, they took home their first sectional title in Class 2A in front of their home crowd, beating Newton 25-20, 28-26.
As Kary Langan wound up for a monster swing, the ball crashed into a Newton defender, flying back over the entire Shelbyville (36-3) side to land out of bounds for the Rams' final point.
It solidified the first sectional trophy since 2010.
"Yeah, in seventh grade, the senior class, we under-succeeded every year that we played," Rams senior Courtney Williams said. "And this year, it's, we're succeeding."
"It was one of those things when we were in seventh grade and the seniors were in eighth grade where it was like, I can't wait until high school when we can play together," junior Maddie Holland said.
"And have Peif as a coach," Williams added.
Shelbyville coach Lisa Peifer looked like she ran a marathon after the match. She might have been more nervous than the players, stressing to them it's just another game, no different than the 35 before that they've won. Peifer, though, seemed to take it up a notch herself, working the sidelines vigorously.
"I feel like I'm just a hot mess here!" Peifer said with a laugh.
She called timeouts at the right time. Down 20-18 in the first set, she refocused her team and they scored seven straight points to win. Down 22-18 in the second, Peifer again stressed securing Newton's tips and setter dumps and the Rams scored five straight en route to the victory.
"Their setter did a great job getting to balls and keeping them alive and doing all kinds of stuff, we just had to keep playing through," Peifer said. "We finally picked up some when we really needed it."
It was a clash of styles as Shelbyville continued to swing away while Newton (30-8) worked tips and tried to be crafty around the block. The Rams started to adjust, anticipating the shorter and softer hits.
"Their defense stepped it up on us and their blocks made huge blocks on Abby (Frohning) at the end of the game and frustrated her," Newton coach Jill Kistner said. "I would have liked to seen it go to a third game, but I'm proud of the girls."
Ryann Ambrose was the Ram who frustrated Newton the most. She had three blocks, including one on Frohning for the second-to-last point.
And in true Shelbyville form, the Rams had five hitters with at least five kills. Hannah Koonce and Sydney Miller both led with seven.
It's a formula that's worked all year, and they're hoping the blueprint holds for one more match.
"It kind of feels unreal that we have one more game until we get to Redbird Arena, and we're going to push hard to get there," Ambrose said. "That's been our goal."
Shelbyville didn't have the best luck last year, traveling all the way to Carlinville for regionals. It was made up this year. The Rams were rewarded for the regional title with the home floor for sectionals. A good student section turned out and certainly made an impression.
"Having them cheer and you not being able to hear your own teammates, it's awesome," Holland said.
Doing it all
Newton's Taylor Johnson was all over the floor, leading the Eagles in kills (6), digs (10) and aces (2). And that last one is where she can truly excel. Johnson's low, laser of a ball is hard to react to in time, and it looked like she was going to close out the second set.
It's the 10 sectional title for Shelbyville volleyball and the sixth for Peifer. Volleyball takes up more space than any other sport in the Rams' gym, and with one more win they would lock in the third state trophy in program history.
The last state trophy came in 1991 when Shelbyville went 40-1, only losing in the championship match to Wheaton St. Francis.
Shelbyville has its work cut out on Saturday in the super-sectional. The Rams face Belleville Althoff, which has dropped down to 2A after the multiplier was waived off.
Althoff hasn't allowed a team to score more than 18 points in any game this postseason, recently throttling Anna-Jonesboro 25-10, 25-14 for the sectional title.
The two will play on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Fairfield.
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