By Mike Monahan

These Mattoon seniors have had to adapt a great deal in their high school volleyball careers.

Besides training through a pandemic and then playing a delayed season on short notice, these seven Green Wave seniors have played for three different coaches.

Plus, a starter suffered a major injury, another player got Strep throat and the team was quarantined.

Despite these challenges, Kendra Bialeschki says she and her teammates wish they could keep playing.

”I think we were all upset because we are not ready to leave,” said Bialeschki, who led the Green Wave in kills with six on Senior Night on Thursday.

These seniors, who went 71-47 for a .601 winning percentage and who captured a Class 3A regional title when they were freshmen, nearly pulled off one more big win Thursday night.

But perhaps in a reflection of the times, the game ended in an unusual manner – an illegal substitution call that gave Effingham a 25-23, 25-23 win.

Still, the seniors – Hannah Schrock, Tinley Risinger, Xylia Greeson, Anna Morton, Morgan Weaver, Bialeschki and Emillee Kuhn – battled alongside their teammates through the match.

In the second set, Mattoon led 10-8 when they outscored the Flaming Hearts 5-1. Bella Smith served the final two points getting help from a tip by Kuhn and Smith also had an ace for a 15-9 advantage.

MHS still led 17-12 when Effingham’s Samanatha Urch had a kill for the Hearts and Jacy Boatman served three straight points, including an ace as Effingham trailed 18-17. 

Mattoon led 20-17 when one of 10 net serves in the match for the Green Wave gave Effingham’s foreign exchange student Dalla Ambrogiana the chance to serve three straight points, including an ace, as the Hearts took their first lead since leading 5-4. 

The set was tied at 21 and then again at 22 when Megan Ballman served a point. The Hearts earned the point on a block for a 24-22 lead. Mattoon battled back to within one, but the match ended on an illegal substitution call. 

“That was completely my fault,” said Mattoon co-coach Lori Morton. “I did an illegal sub and I didn’t realize I did that.”

The Green Wave got together in a big circle after the match as players were teary eyed the season had come to an end with a 2-11 record. The Green Wave beat Teutopolis and Lincoln in Apollo Conference matches. 

“The record sounds like we were terrible, but, honestly, in every single match at least one of the sets was super tight,” said Morton. “It could have easily been a different outcome. It is exciting and frustrating all at the same time. It is exciting because there’s so much adrenaline pumping during that match and you adjust on the edge of winning. Then there is just that letdown when it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know if we didn’t know to execute all the way or they just fought against teams that were good, but they learned how to fight. You can look at it both ways.”

The first set saw neither team lead by more than three points. Mattoon led 15-12 in a set that had 11 ties and four lead changes. A kill by Ayerie Smith gave Mattoon a 23-22 lead after the Hearts led 21-19. Effingham tied the score at 23 with a kill by Urch, giving Boatman the serve. She aced Mattoon twice deep to the left corner. 

“I think communication is the key and we struggled a lot covering the hits and blocks and stuff,” said Bialeschki.

The junior varsity swept Effingham, 25-23, 25-17 while the freshmen won 22-20, 19-21, 15-4.

“We didn’t really have our whole team until the last three weeks of the season,” Morton said. “That is not an excuse. But it just took us awhile to jell and do what we needed to do to play well. If we could have had a normal season, I think we would have had more time to figure it all out. We had four games, four games and three games in our last three weeks and that doesn’t leave a whole lot of practice and correction. It was a challenge, but I don’t regret anything. The girls were great. They were fun to coach and I love them. I have known most of them since seventh grade because I volunteer coached at the middle school when the seniors were in seventh grade and since my daughter is a senior. They are pretty near and dear to my heart.”

Bialeschki has not decided where she will go next year, but has been getting offers.

“I am blessed to have a season no matter how it turned out,” said Bialeschki. “I have been playing since I was a sixth grader. It is my whole world and I love it.”

The Hearts (5-9) had six aces to three for Mattoon.

“The last three weeks have been a little tougher with soccer, softball and track starting. We have had overlapping,” said Morton. “A fourth of our team are in other sports. I told them what it boils down to is not about our record or stats, but it is about the relationship that you have with your teammates.”