By Ben Leman
As the ball went across the net to Charleston High School’s side, Katarina Blase shouted that she planned to block Richland County’s shot.
Blase did just that, sending it back to the opposing side and giving the Trojans the game-winning point.
Blase and her teammates kept up that communication, which enabled Charleston (24-11) to pull off a straight-set victory in the opening round of the IHSA Class 3A volleyball regional at Baker Gym, 25-12, 25-16.
“We passed really good,” Blasé said. “I feel like our passing helped us improve on the net. Our communication was really good out there.”
The Trojans advanced to Thursday’s 6 p.m. title game against Effingham, a 25-20, 25-23 winner over Marion later Tuesday night. Thursday’s winner advances to play a sectional game against either Waterloo or Taylorville.
CHS’s Kayleigh Wilson said working together and talking as a team has been the key to success. “We talked about what we need to do and fixed it at the right time,” Wilson said. “We make use of our timeouts, and it’s all about communication.”
Charleston coach Steve Pamperin said ball control is key, especially in the postseason where a team could go on multiple scoring runs. The Trojans compiled four seven-point runs Tuesday night, two in each set.
“I really like how we started our match,” Pamperin said. “Historically, we’ve been slow to start. I thought our energy was OK, but I want to make sure we bring extra energy on Thursday.”
Charleston took large leads at the start of both sets – 7-1 in the first and then 9-1 in the second.
Said Wilson: “It’s really good to get those starts because our energy powers us up and we step on the gas letting us know we got it.”
In the second set, the Tigers moved no closer than nine points – and only after going on an eight-point run, just nine points shy from making a comeback to tie the match.
Richland coach Emily Rusk said her team has challenges ahead.
“We are losing seven seniors and won’t have any tall girls,” she said. “So, we’re really going to work on defense.”
Pamperin said the next thing to focus on is solidifying rotations and maintaining ball control.
“These kids have really committed to getting better and better at ball control,” he said, “and I really think that is a reason we’ve been so competitive.”