DES PLAINES — Winning certainly never gets old and the Newark volleyball team has done a ton of it throughout the past three seasons to the tune of an awe-inspiring 112 victories against only nine defeats since the start of the 2017 campaign. Add to that a Class 1A fourth-place trophy two years ago and a 2018 state championship that capped things off last fall — you have a true prep volleyball dynasty in the making and a program fully invested in its current golden age of success.
Newark's most recent addition to its bulging trophy case came after a 25-15, 25-14 Class 1A sectional championship triumph over the very game and scrappy hosts from Willows Academy Wednesday evening here in Des Plaines.
In the process, the Lady Norsemen (38-2) won their third-consecutive sectional title and fourth in school history with the other coming back in 2009.
Newark now faces highly touted Dakota (35-4) Friday evening in the Freeport Aquin Class 1A Supersectional set to start at 7 p.m. for the right to return to state and defend its reigning crown as the finest in small school volleyball. The match will be played at Freeport High School.
"Sectional championships are not easy to come by and prior to these three in a row we had only one back in 2009 and were stuck in a sectional hole where we'd win regional titles but could never get over the hump except in that one year," said NHS veteran coach Tonya Grayson. "Over the past three seasons we've really broken through and it's taken a special group to make that happen. I reminded the girls when they got their sectional plaque tonight not to ever take for granted how fortunate you are to be part of this. This is a very special time in the history of Newark volleyball and I think all of them really realize that."
The Lady Norsemen received a match-best nine kills from all-state junior Madi Malone; seven kills and two blocks from senior Mattie Chapman; along with 10 points, three aces, and three kills from senior Naomi Sweeney.
Senior all-state libero Meggie Scott flipped up a match-high eight digs, as well as serving seven winners and two aces, while junior setter Taylor Christian deftly placed 22 assists.
Sophomore Megan Williams caught fire in the second set producing all six of her kills that helped out perform Willows (29-9-1) which never gave an inch in terms of effort behind a team-leading seven kills, six points, and four aces from senior Kamila Kawa coupled with four kills and two blocks from junior Talia Maso.
"Newark has incredibly talented athletes and volleyball players that we felt very privileged to take on tonight in a sectional championship game," said WA coach Michelle D'Amico. "I couldn't be more proud of how we competed against the defending state champions this evening. This is the best volleyball team in Willows history but compliments to Newark. They're undoubtedly the finest team we've played this year and I hope they go on and win another state championship next week."
In the opening set, Malone came out strongly as usual registering six kills early on that staked Newark to a 13-7 lead. Two points later, Sweeney started a five-point service run with two aces that put the Lady Norsemen ahead 19-8 before she closed out the opener with a left-side kill into the Willows midcourt on set point.
The Eagles however, were not done by a long shot, opening up a 6-3 lead in the second set after a stellar five-point service rally by Kawa, which included four aces — three of which were in succession. Newark fought back with a trio of stealthy tip kills at the net from Chapman to tie the score at 9-9.
"I figured out they had some big hands up in the middle against my attack so I decided to find some wide open space in their defense," Chapman said. "Meggie Scott gave me places that she saw which really helped me tip in some winners."
Scott then reeled off five-consecutive service winners where Williams was a beast registering five kills from the left side throughout a 7-2 Lady Norsemen run to go ahead for good 16-11.
"Mattie Chapman and Meggie Scott really got me focused on what to fix after the first set and then the second set really clicked for me," Williams said. "Taylor (Christian) gave me some amazing sets and our passing was excellent too."
Newark closed out the title on a 9-3 run as Chapman and Williams each shared a left-side block on match point in order to face Dakota Friday with a second crack at a state title on the line.
"We're going to have to play really well but I'm very confident that my girls are tested and they're prepared for any challenge put in front of them," Grayson said. "They've been through the gauntlet before and so now I trust them to come through and I believe they'll get things done when it matters the most in order to defend our championship."