Can Taylorville reload?
Can Mahomet-Seymour take the next step?
Could Charleston be a dark horse?
These are some valid questions when thinking about the Apollo Conference volleyball landscape these days.
Taylorville and Mahomet-Seymour tied for the Apollo title last year.
Mattoon, which won an IHSA Regional Championship, finished with a .500 record in the conference.
Mount Zion and Lincoln bring back some true athletic bodies, while last place Charleston could go from winless to back in the mix.
The Apollo Conference will be loaded once again as the conference featured two 30-win teams last season. Taylorville made the deepest run in the playoffs last season, winning a Sectional Championship. It was the second Elite Eight appearance for head coach Kim Peabody since taking over nine years ago.
“We had a very successful season last year and hope to have a repeat of that season,” said Peabody. “Our goal is to finish at the top of the Apollo Conference.”
Gone from last year’s 35-5 team, which featured an 11-1 record in the Apollo, are three All-Apollo First Team members in Summer Brandis, Hannah Clayton, and Abby Heberling. Clayton led the team with 204 kills last season, while Heberling was second with 187 kills. Heberling led the team in blocks with 46, while Brandis was the team’s leader in dogs with 232 and was the top setter with 635 assists.
While none of these player return, the team will rely on seniors Elle Richards and Sam Logue. Richards led the team with 24 aces last year and was third in kills with 134. Logue nearly led the team in digs but finished second with 231.
“I feel there are some very talented players in the Apollo conference this year but no one sticks out as a super stud to me from any team,” said Peabody. Outside hitter, Elle Richards will make a major impact on us. She is our number one hitter and plays all six rotations. She is a senior, returning starter. Last year, we tied with Mahomet as conference champs. I could see this as a possibility again this year. I feel both teams will be good again and equally matched.”
The Bulldogs, which finished 31-6 and 11-1 in the Apollo last season, lost in their regional championship game. Mahomet returns two All-Apollo First Team players – Avery Allen and Libby Bodine.
Allen, a junior, received Second Team honors last year despite leading the Bulldogs with 277 kills. First-Team member Grace Rodebaugh returns after ranking second in hits with 233 kills. This could be the best-hitting duo at the conference.
Also returning is First-Team libero Libby Bodine, who had 414 digs, as well as senior setter Caylee Folken. Last year, Folken led the team with 452 assists and made the Second Team.
“We are returning most of our starters but we are hoping our setters and outside hitters and libero will pick up and lead the team,” said Mahomet-Seymour coach Stan Bregman. It is a hard decision because Taylorville is coming off an elite eight match, all the other teams have some nice players, and who knows who will end up on top. Our goals would include staying competitive with the other teams and hoping for a better postseason.”
Mount Zion finished third with a 7-5 conference record and brought back First-Team hitter Alexis Smith, who led the Braves with 276 kills. The team will need a new setter as Peyton Courson racked up a whopping 550 assists. Right behind the Braves were Mattoon with a 6-6 record, but the team lost First-Team hitter Averie Smith, as well as top setter Bella Smith.
Lincoln has the talent to make a run toward a top-tier finish. After placing fifth last season, Lincoln returns two Second-Team selections, who are also some of the top athletes in the state. Junior libero Becca Heitzig is a two-time Apollo Conference champion in cross country and All-State runner, while junior Kloe Froebe is a top-3 basketball recruit in the state of Illinois.
“I think that Taylorville and Mahomet-Seymour will be the favorite to win the conference because they both tied for first last year and they both have solid programs,” said Lincoln coach Emma Derry. Last year we placed 5th going 5-7 in the conference. This year I believe we have the talent to place higher than 5th place. Our goal this year is to place higher than last year.”
Effingham placed sixth last season with a 2-10 record, while Charleston was last with a 0-12 record under coach Steve Pamperin, who has stepped down. Nicole Beals takes over this year.
Charleston brings back 2020 All-Apollo First Team setter Mackenzie Pamperin, who could be poised to have a strong senior season. The team brings back their top-2 hitters from last season in junior Addison Shrader and sophomore Audrey Jacobs.
“We have a skilled team this year,” said Beals. “We’re returning four strong seniors, and we also have talented players from our junior and sophomore classes who are tough competitors. I’ve been very impressed with our setters and the way they run the offense for our powerful hitters. These girls are tough on defense as well. They don’t quit. The girls are communicating well on the court and are very supportive of each other. I know the Apollo Conference is intense, but these Charleston girls are coming to play this year. Our goals are to continue to improve, to be good teammates, and to have a positive season. We’re excited to get started.”
2021 Apollo standings