By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
The Staunton High School volleyball team made history twice on the same night Oct. 27.
The Bulldogs added another regional championship plaque to their trophy case while giving their head coach Jeanene Lucykow the 200th victory of her storied head coaching career at Staunton.
Lucykow, who played for the SHS volleyball team in the early 90s, joined Donna Ruehrup as the only other coach to join Staunton’s 200-win club.
As someone who had already surpassed 200 victories over the course of an 11-year tenure at Auburn, Lucykow “never thought she would make it long enough” to accomplish the same feat leading her alma mater.
“I originally didn’t have a grand plan to return Staunton to a volleyball powerhouse,” Lucykow said. “At the time, I just wanted to help the program. Nevertheless, I am beyond ecstatic.”
The Bulldogs entered the playoffs battle-tested from a tough schedule and it paid off as they made quick work of arch-rival Gillespie (12-19) 25-11, 25-12 in the semifinals.
Staunton fell behind 7-0 in the opening set of the championship against Carlinville but rallied to tie the match at 19-19 before eventually seizing a crucial 1-0 advantage via a 25-21 triumph. The South Central Conference champion Bulldogs, which needed a rubber set to finish the league runner-up Cavaliers at the Macoupin County Tournament earlier in the season, pulled away in the ensuing set, 25-16, to sweep and clinch the Illinois High School Class 2A Wood River regional title.
“[Carlinville] came out and played amazing,” Lucykow said. “You have to give them props. We had to play better in the second game and we did.”
“Our mindset was that [Staunton] had everything to lose,” said Carlinville head coach Kaitie Hammann.
Hammann had made a relevant point. After all, Staunton was seeking a fourth regional crown in six years and had won 43 straight matches within the SCC.
“They were the top-ranked team. They were supposed to win,” Hammann said. “They are well coached and their athletes are amazing. We knew they were going to bounce back, even though we started hot. No lead is safe against a team like that. I thought we attacked them well and we had a good gameplan, but they did as well. Kudos to Lucykow and her girls.”
Despite losing three lengthy attackers up front and having to rebuild a depleted setting core in order to properly establish a new offensive approach during an adverse offseason, the Bulldogs responded to the challenge and grinded out 27 victories in 37 matches leading up to a stacked IHSA Class 2A Greenville sectional.
As part of the Lucykow coaching tradition, Staunton organized the toughest schedule out of all the local teams in hopes of seeing “iron sharpen iron.” All of the Bulldogs’ losses occured against proven state heavyweights – Breese Central (33-4), Columbia (27-7), O’Fallon (25-13), Edwardsville (24-13), Williamsville (26-9), Carmi (30-7) and Fairfield (34-3).
The Bulldogs drew Breese Mater Dei in the sectional semifinal and will have to beat either Central in a rematch or Shelbyville should they clear that first challenging hurdle.
Carlinville achieved redemption against Marquette in the semifinals prior to bowing out at 26-11 overall. The Cavaliers, which were defeated 30-32, 25-9, 20-25 at Alton Sept. 25, showed how much of a difference a single month can make as they straight set the Explorers, 25-16, 25-21 with the season on the line.
“We came out on fire, as we did in the Staunton game,” Hammann said. “We did everything we were supposed to do. Everything was on. We really wanted at least 20 victories this season and 26 was the icing on the cake.”
In other action at Wood River, Gillespie beat East Alton Wood River 25-16, 17-25, 27-25 in the regional quarterfinals and Southwestern (4-28) lost to Marquette, 25-19, 22-25, 22-25.
North Mac finished the season 9-23-1 after falling to Pittsfield 16-25, 15-25 in the opening round of the 2A Pleasant Plains bracket.
In Class 1A, Greenfield-Northwestern defeated Bunker Hill (1-26) 25-14, 25-11 and lost to Carrollton 15-25, 16-25 in round two of the Nokomis sub-sectional. Mt. Olive went “one and done” with a 17-25, 21-25 loss to Centralia and finished the year 10-21.