Iowa continues its dominance against Illinois in the Seniors All-Star Match

Sherrard’s McKenna Blackwell knew Illinois would face Iowa in the senior all-star volleyball game, but that was secondary.

The fact that the Tigers had three players in the 10-man roster (Blackwell, Lauren Copeland and Kelsey Hutchins) was impressive enough to wipe out any thought of a bottom line.

“It felt really good knowing I was playing with all these girls from Rock Island and Moline,” Blackwell said. “We’re from the small town of Sherrard, but we had three girls there. It was a fantastic experience.”

Iowa improved to 8-0 in that event with a 25-14, 25-10, 25-10 sweep at Monday’s Beyond the Baseline, but Blackwell had five kills and a block and Hutchins added four kills.

“Everyone played fantastic, I mean when we came in here we were kind of nervous because basically (Iowa’s) height was anything over 6ft and here we’re 5ft 10 at most, but everyone did their best,” Blackwell said.

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“We knew coming in (Iowa) was full of state champions or people going into the state, so we just wanted to give it our all, and we did.”

Moline’s Caylee Brandes led Illinois with six kills and two blocks.

“It feels good to represent Moline volleyball one last time, even if it’s sad to say,” Brandes said. “A lot of my club-mates were here tonight and it was great to play with and against them. It’s a fun atmosphere.”

Every girl wanted to win, but the result of the game wasn’t the top priority.

The majority of the athletes on both sides of the net knew each other well, and the friendly chatter between points, the dancing between sets and the post-game pictures showed just how close the seniors were off the court.

“It’s heartwarming to play in this game, with girls I’ve played against for years,” said Assumption’s Ava Schubert. “I just really enjoyed the moment. There was no stress and everyone just had fun. It was pretty good.”

Schubert might not have been stressed, but she was competitive. Tennessee Tech’s volleyball commit recorded a team-high 11 kills and added three blocks to lead Iowa to big leads in every set.

“Lots of kills and a few big blocks are some memories I will have from this game,” Schubert said. “But no, I had to play against a lot of really good players and that’s what I’ll remember the most.

“I knew Iowa was undefeated and to keep it that way is great. That’s what we wanted to do. I’m very happy that Iowa is 8-0.”

Pleasant Valley also had three members (Izzy VanDeWiele, Chloe Cline, Siena Roethler) and each made an impression for Iowa.

The 6-foot-5 VanDeWiele caused the most problems for Illinois with seven kills, four blocks and two aces.

Schubert and VanDeWiele gave Iowa a 9-0 lead in the first set before driving to a 25-14 win.

Illinois cut the Iowa lead to 9-5 in the second set when Blackwell hit a kill so hard it ricocheted off an Iowa player and hung on a pipe 15 feet up the gym wall, but that was all , which went Illinois’ way.

Iowa responded with a 14-3 run to dispel any doubts about a competitive set. The match ended in the third set after Clinton’s Makayla Howard took over, ending the match with seven kills and two aces.

The girls hadn’t practiced together for long, but there were few mistakes on Monday night.

“We only had one training session together and we had to train with Illinois, so we didn’t have a lot of time alone,” Schubert said. “We just had to find out, but it’s what we do. We play volleyball here, we all grew up with it.”

Whether or not Monday was the last time a senior donned the volleyball jersey competitively, the gratitude of the event was clear.

“Ending my high school career here with a bunch of great athletes and people in general is a great way to go to the quad cities,” Schubert said.