Nine teams will pack Baker Gym, the Auxiliary Gym, and Charleston Middle School on Saturday for the Charleston Trojan Volleyball Tournament. The tourney will feature two current conference leaders, three southern Illinois teams, and a Cinderella sleeper in Class 1A Meridian.
Headlining the Red Pool will be Champaign Centennial, Carbondale, and Robinson. Centennial is 6-11 on the season but owns a perfect 3-0 record in the Big 12 Conference. Champaign opened the season with seven straight losses but won over Danville, Urbana, and Peoria Manual to help turn their season around.
Carbondale is 5-5 on the season with an 0-1 record in the South Seven Conference. Leading the way will be junior hitter MeiKayla Graham with 100 kills, good for 4.2 kills per set. Graham also leads the team in aces (13) and digs (101).
Robinson finishes out the Red Pool as the current Little Illini Conference leader with a 1-0 start to the season with a strong 9-4 overall record. Robinson owns a win over Teutopolis this season and battled a very tough Fairfield squad to three sets before losing. Senior Liv Smith and sophomore Elizabeth Shea own more than 60 kill this season, while Shea has an eye-popping 27 aces on the serving side.
Moving to the White Pool, Highland leads the charge with a 4-3 overall record and a 1-0 start to the Mississippi Valley Conference. The Bulldogs are heavily favored to sweep their pool with 1-7 Effingham and 2-8 Decatur MacArthur also in the mix.
As for the Gold Pool, both Olney and Meridian should feature a tough contest. Olney owns a 4-4 record with a 1-0 start to the Little Illini Conference. The Tigers feature two returning All-Conference selections in Olivia Steber and Aliyah Tracy.
“We have started figuring things out at our first tourney of the year, Olney Tiger Classic,” said Olney coach Emily Rusk. “We were excited to get things underway after seeing what works best for our team. However, Covid had a change of plans for us. We are rising above this detour and pushing forward. I am looking to work on what works best for our team at the Charleston tournament. This will be the first time playing this way since our last tourney, two weeks ago. So we are excited about this.”
Meridian brings an 8-3 record and head coach Jennifer Hendricks believes her team is a contender to win the title.
“Our season has gone extremely well so far,” said Hendricks. “We are strong in all areas of volleyball! Three of our players are currently on the Class 1A stat leaderboards: Kiarra Giles for blocking; Yaiza Nieto for hitting; Katy Hendricks for setting. We hope to compete well at the invite and look forward to playing new teams.”
Nieto owns a team-leading 84 kills on the season, while Giles has an impressive 32 solo blocks. Hendricks has a team-leading 181 assists (7.0 per game), and a team-leading 101 digs.
Host school Charleston enters with a 2-11 overall record and an 0-2 mark in the Apollo Conference. Mackenzie Pamperin figures to make a bid for the All-Tournament team as she leads Charleston in kills (37) and assists (134), while Adalyn Wood leads the team in digs (101) and aces (16).