By Kyle Daubs

Last year, Charleston was able to knock off one goal.

The team’s 25-12 season last year set a school record for wins. Their Regional Championship was also their first since 1997. With the chance to repeat this season erased by the pandemic, Charleston can still try to capture something they haven’t done since 2005 – win the Apollo Conference championship. 

CHS coach Steve Pamperin (77-36), in his third stint with CHS and in his fifth season overall, says his squad can compete with defending champion Mahomet for the title. 

“With Mahomet-Seymour winning the Apollo Conference last year, they have to be considered the favorites this year,” said Pamperin. “The Apollo is a strong volleyball conference with very good teams from top to bottom. We hope we can be competitive, night in and night out.”

Leading the way will be first-team All-Apollo senior Kat Blase. 

Blase was instrumental in Charleston setting a new school record for wins by recording 324 kills, 36 aces and 57 total blocks. Blase also owns the school record for career blocks (155), was an AVCA All-American, and was named to both the Champaign News-Gazette All-State Special Mention 50 and the Herald-Review All-Area Team. 

All-Apollo second-team libero Hannah Buescher also returns. The senior recorded 292 digs last season, owned a 2.21 serve-receive average, had 44 assists and recorded 34 aces.

Pamperin said that his five seniors, which also includes outside hitter Syd Bennett, outside hitter Ashlyn McPeak and hitter Maria Weiss, will be relied upon heavily.  

“They all have varsity experience and they set the tone for the program as the team’s senior leaders,” said Pamperin. “This team has a lot of varsity experience, which will be especially critical in this short, compact season. 

Charleston lost five seniors from last year in the middle back – Natalie Coartney, setter Abby Kallis, outside hitter Kayla Rotramel, outside hitter Keren Masangu, and outside hitter Kaleigh Wilson. However, the depth of the team last year was so vast that many players of this current team earned playing time.

 “Probably our biggest strength is the experience all of the athletes have played at the varsity level,” said Pamperin. “This will help the girls with preparation for matches as they know what is expected playing varsity volleyball in the Apollo.”   

Charleston will play a predominantly Apollo Conference schedule. The volleyball team has been working out since the summer. After their season was moved to the spring, the team had used up all of their contact days in the fall. 

All in all, Pamperin said that the team has adjusted well with a fluid sports schedule.

“The athletes did a great job handling the ups and downs regarding the scheduling of this season,” said Pamperin. “The kids are eager to start matches next week after all of the uncertainties they experienced this year. Like last year, our goal is to be prepared and to bring a team that can be competitive each match throughout the season.”