NORMAL — The Iroquois County communities of Cissna Park and Watseka are proudly waving 3rd Place banners after the weekend state volleyball finals at ISU's Redbird Arena.
The Cissna Park T'wolves captured the 1A 3rd Place trophy. Watseka's Warriors returned home with the third place 2A award.
Cissna Park (34-5) made some defensive adjustments and got their own attack working for a 20-25, 25-23, 25-17 victory and the first state trophy in school history.
"I really think that was the difference in the match," Cissna Park coach Josh Landon said about a couple tweaks he made to his team's back-row defense. "We were able to dig up some of their (Woodlawn) power swings and got our offense going as well."
Addison Stoller finished the match with a 15-kill, 11-dig double-double. Anna Kaeb kept Cissna Park's attack flowing with 28 assists, and Lexi Knake led the Timberwolves defensively with 13 digs.
"Stoller was able to execute against their defense," Landon said. "We had to cut a little bit harder on our swings to find the open hole, but she just stayed aggressive."
And Gabby Wessels and Samantha Hasselbring helped bring home the win, giving Cissna Park a balanced attack.
"The likes of Samantha Hasselbring and Gabby Wessels stepped up tremendously, knocking down six and seven kills to keep Woodlawn honest," Landon said.
Cissna Park is also set up to build off this year's success — in which the only losses came to Rockford Keith Country Day (now three-time defending Class 1A state champs), Watseka (this year's Class 2A third-place finishers) and Deer Creek-Mackinaw (this year's 2A champs).
Of the nine players to play in the third-place match, only two are seniors. The Timberwolves will bring back Stoller, Kaeb, Wessels and Hasselbring next season.
Watseka showed determination against Edwards County after a semi-final loss to Dakota.
Watseka dropped the opening set 25-16 to the Lions. But then the match turned in the Warriors favor..
Watseka found a way to shut down the Lions power, Taylor Bauer got going and the Warriors rallied for a 16-25, 25-16, 25-13 victory. It was the first state trophy in program history.
"I think we just took them so much out of their offense that she couldn't get good swings," Watseka coach Krista Pufahl said about stopping James, who had just two more kills in the match after her strong start. "We took them completely out of their offense because we were attacking."
Watseka's own turnaround offensively started with better passing. Better passing gave setter Maddie Pfingsten a chance to deliver better sets. Better sets helped Bauer and fellow senior outside hitter Alexis Shoemaker terminate at a higher efficiency.
Bauer had a match-high 15 kills, while Shoemaker chipped in seven.
"Haley Shoemaker had a really good warmup," Pufahl said. "We knew if we could get her the ball she would put it away. She just had that look in her eyes."
Watseka finished the season at 36-4 — its fourth straight 30-win season. The Warriors, though, will have to deal with losing five senior starters in Pfingsten, Bauer, Shoemaker, Emily Allhands (who led all players with five total blocks) and Natalie Castonguay (who had a match-high 14 digs). Also graduating will be defensive specialists Katelyn McTaggart and Jenna Ripley.
"The seniors' commitment the past six years has really paid off," Pufahl said. "A lot of them have been starting since their sophomore season. We brought volleyball back into Watseka."