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NORMAL — Small changes can have huge ramifications.

St. Teresa's volleyball team discovered that out when coach Brad Dalton made some roster changes and shifted some players from junior varsity to varsity. 

"In the beginning of the season our bench was not good at all," said freshman outside hitter Valerie Nutakor, whose team advanced to state before falling to Hartsburg-Emden in the semifinals on Friday. "The only time I was cheering was when I would jump up to get in the game.

"And then after the crushing defeat against Mount Zion (on Oct. 16), coach decided that we needed to make some changes and we added two new girls to our varsity bench.

"Now it is more exciting on the bench and we build everyone up with the cheers."

The arrival of junior outside hitter Audrey Banning and sophomore middle hitter Emily Birschbach to the bench raised everyone's game. 

"It has really been the turning point of us playing better again by adding Audrey and Emily off the JV team," Dalton said. "I saw them playing in a JV match and they were getting beaten but they were upbeat and cheering for their teammates. They are high character, high energy, goofy and they keep everyone loose."

It's not uncommon to see the bench doing the wave and threatening the safety of their coach with their rambunctious support. 

"I've almost been knocked over a couple of times from them jumping on the bench cheering," Dalton said. "It's great, t has everyone flying around the court again."

Outside hitter Abby Robinson credits the bench and the team's strong student support for helping them on their state run. 

"Once postseason hit we finally decided that we are going to play and we were going to go all out and a huge key to that was our bench," she said. "They lifted us through some battles and big games and our fans took us to the next level. A lot of the accomplishment that we had this year is due to them. It has been an amazing ride."

A family tradition

Bulldogs setter Lexie Huck is looking to settle a sibling rivalry. 

Her sister, Courtney Huck, was a setter for the Bulldogs' other state qualifying teams in 2010 and 2011. Both of those teams finished in fourth place and Lexie watched those matches from the Redbird Arena stands and made it a goal to get to state herself. 

"Obviously I have a lot to live up to with my sister being here twice and she had a very successful volleyball career," she said. "I am super excited and really happy to have made it as far as we have. Obviously getting to state is awesome but I would love to go out with a win (on Saturday). That would be nice." 

This year's Bulldog's team has come together like nothing Lexie has experienced. 

"We definitely started off a bit rough on the season but we have come together really well and we communicate really well on the court and I think that has been a big factor in our success," she said. 

A different state experience

St. Teresa middle hitter DaeLin Switzer has a lot of experience at state.

She was the Class 1A champion in the high jump and 300-meter hurdles last year at the state track tournament but her trip with the volleyball team is something unique. 

"I’ve been to state in track and this is a completely different environment being here with all the volleyball girls and knowing that if we don’t stick together we are just going to fall apart," she said. "It is not just so individual and it felt really good to have my teammates with me and I’m so happy I got to be a part of this team."

Switzer led the Bulldogs with six kills in their loss to Hartsburg.

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Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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