By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
For two Macoupin County rivals, the 2023 season was one to behold. Unfortunately, the road halted for one of them because fate had it that they would meet head-to-head for a sectional title.
The heated duel for bragging rights was taken to another level as Staunton and Gillespie took center stage at Auburn Junior High School in Divernon Mar. 13.
The Terriers went in as the favorite to win and did just that against Celia Jubelt’s Indians. Staunton punched its ticket to the big show with its 20th victory in 24 games.
In the moment, defeat tasted bitter. However, Gillespie ultimately departed from the Illinois Elementary School Association postseason with heads held high.
Although they were on the winning side more often than not, the Indians had been through a ton of ups and downs heading into the final standoff with the Terriers. In fact, they were spiraling towards heartbreak in their first game of the playoffs just a week prior.
Once Gillespie evened a regional semifinal stalemate with a dark horse Litchfield squad that had already overachieved in defeating No. 3 North Mac as a sixth seed in round one, the Tribe ignited and played its best volleyball of the season. The Indians stomped the Panthers 25-11 when all of the chips were down, then carried that momentum into the regional final against a heavyweight that had established itself as another heated rival of GMS.
The Gillespie eighth graders remembered how Hillsboro had banished them from the IESA basketball postseason and took that to heart in what ended up being a straight set victory. The No. 2 seed Indians turned the tables and extinguished the fire of the top-ranked Dragons, sending them packing via a humbling 25-17, 25-19 statement.
The Indians finished the season 16-10 overall.
Meanwhile, the excitement continued for Staunton’s volleyball program. Just days after its seventh graders took second in the state, the eighth graders are on their way to Pana to serve up their best shot. The Terriers take on Athens in the ‘Elite Eight’ at 7 p.m. Fri., Mar. 17.
The winners of the IESA quarterfinals will each participate in a doubleheader with the championship on the line Sat., Mar. 18. Friday’s losers will be headed home.
Staunton previously nailed Roxana 25-14, 25-11 and Vandalia 25-9, 25-8 on its home hardwood en route to an undisputed regional title.