DELAND — There are just 21 schools in the state — and just four public schools — with fewer students than the 57 at DeLand-Weldon High School.
Despite the small enrollment — this year's junior class has just 10 students — the Eagles' athletic program remains alive and, in the case of volleyball, is thriving.
DeLand-Weldon, which is the top seed at this week's Class 1A LeRoy Regional, will open postseason play on Wednesday with a record of 18-11 and coming off a sweep of Champaign Judah Christian in the East Central Illinois Conference Tournament championship.
The volleyball team has remained a consistent winner under coach Jay Schatz, who also coaches track and field. The Eagles volleyball team has played for a regional championship in three of the last 10 seasons. Last season, the team finished with a record of 15-12 and lost to Blue Ridge in the regional championship.
With teams the size of second-seeded Agenta-Oreana (enrollment 283.5) also in the regional, Schatz said while he hopes his team wins, the goal is to compete.
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“The only thing I want, when I go to a match, especially when from a small school, I just want a chance to win,” Schatz said.
While Schatz has a roster of only 11 girls, his four seniors — setter Chloe Melvin, outside hitters Haley Reynolds and Hannah Cunningham, and libero Peyton Lappin — have helped lead the team to success.
Schatz has had some great players before, such as current Parkland College player Raeanne Allen, a 6-foot-3 middle hitter who was first ream in the East Central Illinois Conference in 2018.
“That was a once in a lifetime player right there," Schatz said.
Despite losing such a dynamic player, the team has been able to move on and find success with players the team currently has, and the players hope this is the year the program can break through and win its first regional title.
“Well, I think we can compete” Schatz said. "We have weaknesses just like everybody else, but the good thing is we have pretty good players. My setter (Melvin) and my first outside hitter (Reynolds) both played club volleyball, so they have had a lot of experience playing against the top competition in this area. So, that makes a big difference.”
In addition to volleyball, DeLand-Weldon offers boys and girls track and field, and boys and girls basketball. Football and golf compete in co-op programs with Farmer City Blue Ridge.