WINFIELD — It is the goal of every coach in every sport to have a team playing at its peak when the postseason arrives.
Notre Dame swept Winfield-Mount Union in three sets Wednesday to advance in the Class 1A volleyball postseason.
The Nikes had a slow start to the year due to transfer problems with two Illinois girls and a COVID-19 situation. The slow start may have hurt chemistry in practice time, but the Nikes performance is at its peak.
One of the greatest seasons in Winfield-Mount Union volleyball history comes to an end and coach David Pieart was emotional after the match talking about the special group of players that produced a season to remember for the Wolves.
“Senior leadership, with a couple career record holders, is why we had this kind of season,” he said. “They pushed each other in practice and we had talented underclassmen that pushed the upperclassman and each other.”
Junior varsity players that didn’t see any varsity time still had a huge impact on the team.
“They really made a difference for us,” Pieart said. ”Jill Blake and Amanda Richardson, my two assistant coaches, are as much responsible for building the program as anybody.”
Pieart is in his 20th season at the helm and has steered the Wolves to unprecedented heights with a conference title.
The match against Notre Dame went quickly in the Nikes favor, but a 22-11 lead in the first set quickly evaporated when one of the transfers was hurt. The Wolves closed with a Jami Wilkerson kill, Kayla Edwards ace, Jenna Buffington kill, Madie Anderson block, and Kyndal Townsley dig, but a back tip by ND won the set 25-22.
“We went into a little panic and she thought she needed an ambulance, but we turned the ship around and she made it back on the court,” Notre Dame co-head coach Mike Davis said. “We work a lot on our offense, but playing ranked teams that were just punching us in the mouth made us pretty seasoned right now, at the right time of year.”
The Wolves stayed close in the second set, rallying from an 11-4 deficit to get within two repeatedly but the Nikes pulled away at 18-15 to win 25-17.
“We knew they had three big hitters and a great setter, so that made them very tough,” Pieart said. “They are playing their best volleyball of the season.”
The visitors went up 7-3 in the third and it was 19-11 when action stopped for an extended period of time. The officials finally deduced that there was an illegal substitution but it wasn’t caught until two points had been played, so the Nikes didn’t get penalized for it. The final score was 25-17.
“We couldn’t put streaks together, never got on a good service run and, ultimately, that killed us,” Pieart said. “We just kept rotating around and they nickeled and dimed us.”
“They are playing their best, but I think we played pretty darn well the last two or three matches,” Pieart said. “We could’ve been better offensively, but that’s how it goes. They took us out of our game. I just don’t know that we had enough to hurt them where we needed to.”
W-Mu ends the year at 21-6. Notre Dame is 15-5.