CHILLICOTHE — Illinois Valley Central’s meticulous pre-match preparation is no laughing matter.
Well, all that seriousness does disappear right before any Grey Ghosts volleyball match begins. Jansan Davis gathers her teammates in an on-the court huddle just prior to first serve and …
“I tell a joke every (match),” the senior setter said with a smile. “We all laugh and then we’re ready to go. I really think we’re just trying to have a fun season, because when it’s fun, that’s when we’re going to play well.
“We really want to win. That’s our main goal every (match) is play our best and hopefully come out with a win.”
And IVC’s 5-3 start is a far cry better than last year’s 2-6 beginning, already avenging losses to Princeville, Flanagan-Cornell and Limestone. The Ghosts headed into their Tuesday nonconference match against Olympia (4-2) utilizing a great balance of upperclassmen — six seniors and four juniors — and youth — four sophomores, plus two freshmen.
“It’s been put out there that they’re going to be good this year, so it’s kind of tense to live up to those expectations but we know what we can do,” IVC senior captain Bella Camp said.
Camp, who missed her junior season with a shoulder injury, brings crazy athleticism and the versatility to play anywhere on the court. IVC coach Troy Webb says his 5-foot-8 outside/middle hitter especially thrives as a leader to the half-dozen underclassmen.
“She’s kind of the one they go to and lean on a little bit when they need something,” the fourth-year coach said.
A nice 1-2 punch of outside hitters — 5-foot-9 senior Hope Allen and 6-foot freshman Kenna Wollard — is what the Ghosts have been getting on offense.
In the tough two-set defeat to Illini Prairie Conference foe and last season’s Class 2A third-place finisher Champaign St. Thomas More on Saturday, the pair evenly split 12 kills and each posted a pair of aces. Wollard added nine digs and two blocks. Allen is a returning all-Illini Prairie first-team player, posting a team-best 295 kills last season.
“For real, our outside is very stacked,” Davis said. “It’s the most dominant part of our rotation for sure. I just think with Hope being so experienced and Kenna — for a freshman, the most mature freshmen I’ve ever seen — she’s, for sure, capable of playing varsity ball. I really think her and Hope (are a) good duo.”
Wollard joins IVC as one of the nation’s top freshmen, receiving heavy college interest from many NCAA Power 5 programs.
Her focus, however, isn’t on the next level even a little bit. She’s just excited to be learning as well as sharing the court with senior libero Hannah Horack, junior middle hitter Gwen Palmer, Davis, Camp and Allen.
“I’ve been looking forward to (playing varsity) these last two years,” Wollard said. “It’s all that I’ve wanted so far.
“We’re going to go as far as we can. We’re going to grind through practice. We’re trying to be a team and get along as a team.”
Making it to the regional championship, plus winning 20 matches is what Webb strives for every season from his program. IVC, which drops to Class 2A for the postseason, last won a regional in 2010, ending a span that saw three titles in four seasons including a 2009 Elite Eight appearance.
The Ghosts won 20 matches and made it to a Class 3A regional championship two years ago.
“If we can get to that point, then we feel like we have a good chance of winning a regional,” Webb said. “We like to set the bar high, but we also like to take things one (match) at a time and try to figure out what’s best for the team as a whole, so that come October we’re peaking at the right time.”
Adam Duvall can be reached at 686-3214 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.