PRINCETON — Kewanee volleyball team’s season ended Tuesday night in the Class 2A regional semifinals at Prouty Gymnasium.
Twenty-four hours earlier it had ambushed a 20-win Mendota team with a win-or-go-home attitude. But accomplishing the same against a 30-win Orion team was too tall an order.
Orion won 25-12, 25-10, adding Kewanee to a list of 25 other schools it has defeated in a whirlwind season that included winning the Wethersfield tournament on Labor Day weekend and sharing the Three Rivers Conference West Division title.
“It’s a downer to go out that way,” said Kewanee coach Claire Nichols. “Orion’s a good team. I think they are beatable. We didn’t have our ‘A’ game on to give them that challenge.”
Orion takes its 34-1 record into Thursday’s regional title match. Its opponent will be tournament host Princeton, a 25-18, 25-22 winner over Mercer County in the other semifinal.
Orion setter Faith Catour opened play with three service aces. When Orion increased the lead to 7-0 on Olivia Farwell’s booming kill off Ailynn Duarte’s block that rebounded straight back beyond the far endline, Kewanee expended its first timeout to keep the match from running away.
All that, and Orion’s star senior player — Illinois State University recruit Sarah Jacobsen — hadn’t yet got into the flow of the offense. That was coming next.
Jacobsen had five kills during the rest of the first set, attacking from both the left post and the middle. Except for one tip, her shots were delivered with velocity and precision, spikes that found their mark whether in the heart of the court or down the line of the net.
For the match she had nine kills.
Orion’s Mackenzie Grafton, an opportunistic attacker, jumped on a pair of free balls and finished with seven kills. Emiliah Morrison added five kills and two ace serves. From the middle, Hailey James had two blocks and two kills.
Orion’s two-setter offense saw Catour finish with 12 assists and Ashley Awbrey with six assists.
Kewanee did what it could to make Alyson Shafer the focus of its offense, with Kendal Bennison setting to her repeatedly. In the first set, Shafer got four kills and had only one hitting error. Gracey Damron and Duarte teamed up on a block to make it 22-10. By then, however, Kewanee was out of timeouts.
Orion was less dominant from the service line in the second set. Kewanee even stuck close early, tying the score at 3 on a Shafer and Emma Crofton block. Dana Eble had a kill to pull Kewanee within five, 11-6. It was the last time Kewanee’s offense mounted an attack for point. Duarte had a freeball kill to delay match point by one play.
Kewanee finished the season at 15-20-1.
“I’m proud of these girls,” said Nichols, adding that she was going to miss the three seniors, Shafer, Damron and Kylie Brock. “Fifteeen wins is a lot to be proud of for the Boilermaker program. I told the girls in the locker room that each year I think we keep getting better. As a coach that’s always our goal.”
Nichols said it was her hope the strides made during the season pay dividends in the winter and spring team sports of basketball and softball. “ I’m so excited to watch our girls go on and play,” she said. “This group has bought into what needs to be done to be winners. I think the other sports will see that.”
Bureau Valley advanced to the finals in Port Bryon by defeating Rock Island Alleman 25-13, 25-7. Host Riverdale beat Erie-Prophetstown 25-20, 25-9.
At Pontiac, El Paso-Gridley defeated Eureka 22-25, 25-22, 25-14 and Pontiac beat Fieldcrest 25-16, 28-26.
At Mackinaw, Illinois Valley Central beat Knoxville 25-13, 25-19.
Regional host Annawan defeated DePue 25-12, 25-23 and St. Bede beat the LaMoille co-op 25-9, 25-16.
At Williamsfield, Elmwood beat ROWVA 25-11, 25-14 and Brimfield topped Galva 25-14, 25-10.
At Roanoke-Benton, the hosts beat Lowpoint-Washburn 25-17, 25-17 while Serena beat Putnam County 25-22, 25-9.
At Bushnell-Prairie City, the hosts fell to West Prairie 25-4, 25-4.