DECATUR — Stan Bergman sensed the disappointment.
The sadness his Mahomet-Seymour volleyball players — especially his upperclassmen — felt when the Bulldogs hosted Effingham on Oct. 17.
“Senior night, they were just all bummed because it was their last home match,” M-S coach Bergman said. “I was like, ‘Ladies, we’re hosting a sectional. So, I mean, there’s a possibility where you can actually get back home.’
“And they liked that idea.”
Two weeks later, the Bulldogs showed just how much they liked the concept.
Ainsley Ranstead smashed 20 kills, Lauren Minick added another 10 kills and second-seeded M-S overcame a first-set letdown to surpass No. 3 Champaign Central 23-25, 25-23, 25-10 in Oct. 31st’s Class 3A Decatur Eisenhower Regional final.
It marked the first piece of IHSA hardware for the Bulldogs (30-7) since 2015 and ended a three-year run of being ousted from a regional by a Champaign County foe — Urbana in 2016, Central in 2017 and Unity last year.
“We’ve always had the potential to do it,” the junior Ranstead said. “We’ve just never put it together, so I’m really excited about it.”
A few M-S athletes shed tears of joy once the match concluded and they were handed their regional championship plaque.
Earlier, it appeared the Bulldogs would be crying for a different reason.
That’s because Bergman’s crew picked trick instead of treat on Halloween night by pulling ahead 6-0 in the first set before watching the Maroons (18-16) storm back.
“We made those errors that first set, got behind and then quit making errors,” Central boss Mike Deterding said. “And so the errors they made and the good plays we made kind of evened it out.”
The Maroons, who received 11 kills from Michigan commit Mira Chopra, seven kills from Katy Shockey and 12 assists from Riley Anton, kept the positive vibes flowing into the second game as well.
After M-S snagged the first two points, Central led up until the Bulldogs knotted things at 17.
“We should’ve won the second set, and that was ours to win,” Deterding said, “and we didn’t, so now (M-S is) bolstered a little bit.”
Bergman couldn’t offer a concrete explanation for why the script flipped, with the Maroons seemingly on their way to avenging a three-set loss to the Bulldogs back on Aug. 27.
What Bergman did see was M-S chipping away at a disadvantage, same as Central had in the opening stanza.
It ultimately worked and created a need for one final game.
Again, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 6-0 lead. So what changed from the first set to the third?
“We learned that even though we were up by six points they can come back,” Ranstead said, “and so we didn’t overlook that in the third set and let it happen again.”
But M-S didn’t just stay a step ahead of Central from that point forward. The Bulldogs dominated to the tune of a 17-3 edge at one stage.
Kayin Garner turned in 33 assists, Josie Hess added 21 digs and Ranstead started aiming for the seams in the middle instead of along the lines, at Bergman’s request.
The Maroons, meanwhile, fell back into the frenzy of errors that plagued them earlier in the evening. They finished with 20 attack miscues, 15 blocking botches and three service mistakes.
“Our passes were pretty clean until that third set,” Deterding said. “... And then our hitters have to be better, and (M-S) didn’t give us any points.”
That’s a consistent storyline in what’s been a storybook season thus far for the Bulldogs, in their first year under Bergman.
He expressed a feeling after the season-opening victory over Central that his new pupils may need some time to adjust to the stylings that helped St. Thomas More to consecutive 2A state appearances in 2017 and 2018.
The M-S girls have spent two months proving otherwise.
“The 30 wins, I don’t know what to tell you,” Bergman said. “That was something I really didn’t anticipate ... I’m proud of them for that.”
Making it to the sectional semifinal on the M-S hardwood gave the Bulldogs the chance to run that win total to 31.
“This was one of our major goals,” Ranstead said. “This was huge for us because we were underlooked a lot.”
They couldn’t quite make it.
Normal U-High 2, M-S 0. The Bulldogs held a 23-19 lead over Normal U-High in the opening set of the Class 3A M-S Sectional semifinal, but they couldn’t hold on. The Pioneers went on a crushing 6-0 run to win the first set and cruised to a sweep with a dominant 25-16 victory in the second set. The Bulldogs finished the season 30-8 overall.
“You should’ve seen our crowd,” Bergman said. “The girls said they’ve never ever seen a volleyball crowd as big as the one we had (Monday). I’ll bet we had 75, 80 high school kids there.”
The Bulldogs will say goodbye to seven key seniors. Outside hitter Lauren Minick finished second on the team in kills. Kayin Garner was a three-year starter at setter. Makayla Rosenbery, Delaney Wheeler, Ashley Wheeler, Ellie Beach and Amber Yeakel all played their last games too.
“We’ve got some great people in place to make volleyball successful,” Bergman said. “I hope that we will get kids committed to the program, get kids committed to volleyball.”
— Isaac Trotter contributed to this story.