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Mount Zion's head coach Jay McAtee celebrates with his daughter Karlee McAtee after the winning the class 3A sectional finals against Sacred Heart-Griffin. Online gallery at

MOUNT ZION — Mount Zion volleyball coach Jay McAtee knows a thing or two about good teams.

McAtee has coached teams to five sectional titles. And while coaching at St. Teresa, McAtee took two teams to Redbird Arena for the state tournament.

Even so, his 2017 Mount Zion team stood out.

“Going into the season we wondered who would step up and everybody did,” McAtee said. “Statistically, to be one of the top five offensive teams in the state in all the classes is great. From a coaching standpoint you envision what you want a team to look like and then by the end of the season, when they were clicking, it was as good a volleyball as I’ve ever coached in 17 years.” 

The Braves finished 35-5 and took home the school’s first volleyball sectional title, earning McAtee the Herald & Review County Volleyball Coach of the Year. This makes lucky number seven for McAtee — he also won the award in 2001, ‘02, ‘06, ‘09, ‘10 and ‘11.

Mount Zion was anchored by its setter, Ali Vaughn, who had the responsibility of feeding the Braves' impressive group of hitters. 

“Ali is the engine that makes everything go," McAtee said. "We have five tremendous hitters. I’ve never had that kind of offensive arsenal before. She made my life as a coach so much easier in that she kept all the hitters involved. Whenever you have that much talent there are only so many sets to go around. Ali did a really good job of mixing up the offense and keeping everyone involved and finding out maybe who the hot hitter is that night and taking advantage of it.”

McAtee jokingly referred to the group of five hitters as his five-headed monster. The group includes outside hitters Karlee McAtee, Dayna Kennedy, Reiley Drake and middle hitters Kaitlyn Lilpop and Hayden Engelbrecht.

The team’s unselfish play was commendable.

“With this group it was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve coached," McAtee said. "There just was not a lot of drama, and whenever you have 25 teenagers, that’s hard. It was just a group that came to work everyday and got where they are because they worked extremely hard.”

Of the group, only Engelbrecht is a senior, so next year’s team looks ferocious.

"From where we were from the start of the season, never would I have imagined that we would be ranked one of the top three teams in the state,” McAtee said. “So the girls have come a long way and the exciting news is that our top five players are back next year and we can give it another run.”

Witnessing the players' emotions as the Braves won sectionals this season will stick with McAtee.

“To see the pictures of them just screaming for joy makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “So it was really enjoyable seeing the girls having so much fun playing a game that they play really well.”

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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