Joliet girls win their first state volleyball trophy
Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Hank Nowak
The realization of a dream; Joliet are State B volleyball champions: Annika Bushman (bending over), Makenna Bushman, Merrin Schwend, Skyler Wright and Kyelynn Coombe.

Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Hank Nowak
The Joliet J-Hawks with their first-ever State B Volleyball trophy. Back row, left to right: Assistant Coach Shay Lind, Head Coach Colette Webber, ChelSea DuBeau, Skyler Wright, Merrin Schwend, Makenna Bushman, Kyelynn Coombe, Caitlin Miller, Tory Oswald, Breanne Blain. Front row, left to right; Savanna Warburton, Kylia Kliner, Annika Bushman.

Joliet girls made history last weekend by claiming their first-ever State B volleyball trophy at the expense of Huntley Project.  

The victory caps a remarkable season for the Lady J-Hawks who not only finished second in the 4B standings with an overall record of 14-2, collected the District title, and took 2nd at Divisionals, but also snapped Huntley Project’s 101-match winning streak at the beginning of the season, defeating them for the first time in 14 years. 

Joliet has since defeated Huntley a further 4 times this season. 

For coach Colette Webber it is justification for the impressive program she has installed at Joliet. It was only 10 years ago that Joliet, then a C team, won their first-ever District title. Now the J-Hawks have finished 3rd in the state in 2017 and 2nd in 2019. 

 The achievement brought with it plenty of emotions and deservedly so. 

“I thought I would cry because my eyes were welling up with tears at about 22-15 in the last set,” said Webber.  “I knew we had them but when the ball dropped I was just so happy.  All I could do was smile and clap.  Nobody could see how huge my smile was with my mask on but it was pretty big.”

The team, said Webber, didn't run to each other and fall on the floor but instead got in a huge circle and wrapped their arms around each other and cried. 

“So much emotion,” said Webber.  “All the Championship games with Huntley we have lost over the last 4 years finally came to an end.  I was just so proud of the girls and proud of all the girls in years past that helped make this team successful.  That 2nd place at State last year gave my 5 returning players confidence and so much great volleyball to build on.”

The four seniors Makenna Bushman, Merrin Schwend, Kylia  Kliner and Skyler Wright have helped provide the foundations for the J-Hawk’s success, building a  level of awareness and confidence that comes from not just being teammates but, and this is  common thread through them all, friends.

“Us four seniors and along with some returning starters from last year have been playing together for so long we all understand how one another plays,” said senior hitter Wright. “Volleyball is a game of trust with your teammates and it took us a while to find that trust in one another but once we did, that’s where we found our success.”

“I think our team was successful because we held each other accountable and kept pushing each other to get better as a whole team,” added Bushman.

“Being a part of 4 state teams and 3 state trophies is a true honor. I love knowing I was a part of these teams with my friends and making new dreams and goals for the younger girls in our school. I am really excited to see what is to come in the future years for Joliet Volleyball,” Wright added.

“I think that friendship definitely contributed to the success of this year. We were like family, we spent tons of time together, held high expectations of each other, and all us girls were there for each other. During our practices we always played seniors and freshman against juniors and sophomores which made us make each other better, it was always super competitive. It reminds me of the phrase "iron sharpens iron." The bonds that I have had on this team I will never forget, these girls are forever a family to me,” said Kliner.

Schwend reiterated these comments, “I think our friendships that we had with each other played a huge factor in our success. Being able to have a good time during practice and also pushing each other to be our very best helped us grow as a team.” 

Wright recalled that winning moment as  “an unexplainable feeling” but just knew that “all the years of hard work and time in the gym had paid off.” 

 “When the last ball hit the ground and I knew we were state champs, I couldn't believe it, I was super happy that we won, but I was also kind of sad because our season was over and it was just so fun,” said Bushman.

Likewise with Kliner and Schwend, that moment will live forever.

“It was incredible. The last four years we have been training for this moment. Normally during the season I never want it to end, I don’t want a ‘last game’ kind of feeling. To know that this was the last game, and that we just won state was such an incredible feeling,” said Kliner.

“Once the final ball hit the floor, it was instant tears,” said Schwend. “We were all finally at the top of our peaks. Throughout high school I knew that we could do it, and to finally make it to the top was the best feeling ever.” 

“As a freshman, there is no way I would have actually believed that we would win state,” said Bushman.

“Personally, I am still in shock and haven’t come to the final conclusion that the season is over,” said Kliner. “I have put in so much time and effort into this sport and I still feel overwhelmed with joy. It is awesome to see how much the program has become and how many of us are truly dedicated. My freshman, sophomore, and junior year I was not one of the main starters but I knew that working hard was going to pay off and no matter what I wanted to go out with a bang my senior year.”

The team paid homage to Huntley, one of the most successful volleyball teams in the last 20 years.

“Huntley is a very respectable team and always will be. Those girls are very well-coached and work very hard in the off-season. With that being said that’s what makes beating them so amazing. Finally getting the confidence this year that we could beat them is what set us apart,” said Wright.

“I think Huntley has a great program, and you can definitely tell that they work super hard,” said Kliner. 

“Huntley is a very well disciplined team and being able to compete with them every year has made our team grow and work ten times harder to beat them,” said Schwend. 

“Huntley was a great team this year and I fully believe they will continue to be a great team,” added Bushman. “They work hard and everyone on that team is passionate about winning which is why they are always successful. I think that this year we figured them out faster than they figured us out. We wanted it more and we won, it is as simple as that." 

The J-Hawks began their ascent by dispatching Fairfield 25-19, 25-12, 25-11 in their opening game.

Fairfield, who had finished 2nd in their 1B standings on 11-4, were no match for their fiery opponents, battered as they were with 5 aces, Bushman served 2, and 29 kills, Bushman with Wright making 10 each and Kyelynn Coombe with 6. 

Defensive specialist Kliner made 10 of the 34 digs while ever-reliable assist expert Schwend collected 22 of 24.  

Next up was Colstrip who must love seeing Joliet come out onto the court having lost to them in the final week of the season and again two weeks ago at Divisionals. 

They fared no better this time, going out 25-18, 25-18, 25-20.

The J-Hawks are now at such a high level of performance that it would be easy for them to lose their concentration against penetrable opponents.  This is where they have also grown along with their confidence and belief. 

Bushman and Wright again led that strong front line collecting 23 of the 32 kills and making a further 25 of the 40 digs. Schwend naturally assisted with 29 of the 30 balls. 

The win set them up against Huntley for the 9th time of asking with another semi-final meeting.  

Joliet was masterful, shaking off the lethargy from Divisionals, they drilled into the Huntley frontline, concentrating on the task ahead of them. Despite the closeness of the scores the J-Hawks edged passed their lethal opponents, 25-20, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20

Bushman was everywhere, making 19 kills, serving up 4 aces, making 2.5 blocks and 18 digs. Likewise, Wright popped up with 12 kills and 24 digs while Schwend made 34 assists from 37. ChelSea DuBeau entered the fray with 6 important kills, with Coombe making 4 outstanding blocks from 12 made. Coombe’s also had 14 digs. 

A 2nd championship game beckoned with Huntley hoping to rectify the situation.  

At first, the plan was going Huntley’s way as they led early in the opening set but Wright served an ace that put their opponents suddenly on the ropes and flaying. The opener went Joliet’s way 25-18. 

Huntley came back at Joliet in the 2nd set who were coasting at 22-10. Suddenly it was 22-19 but a composed kill from Wright and a Huntley mistake brought the title ever closer to the J-Hawks who took the 2nd set 25-21.

Into possibly the final set, the Lady J-Hawks 2-0 up on the night, and only 25 points separating them from immortality in the Joliet High School history books. 

Much trading of points went on in the 3rd until Joliet started to see light between them and Huntley. Within a few plays and a few kills, the score was 19-11. 

It was Bushman who capped off the championship point to make it 25-17 and the Joliet girls were champions. 

The team amassed 7 aces with DuBeau on 3 and Coombe 2. Coombe would also claim 5 kills.

Bushman and Wright made up 28 kills this final with both of them collecting 28 digs. Bushman also got in 2 blocks, one the decisive winning point. 

Schwend supplied 28 assists. 

Webber attributes some of the success of playing the State games at Shelby and not Bozeman.

“It was more of a small-town feel and experience. The girls came out a little flat with Fairfield but played solid after getting their feet wet a bit.  I was able to get all of my players in that game for a State experience.  Before we played Colstrip we had a heart to heart about why we were here and what it meant to be in the moment and play with no regrets,” said Webber.  “They hadn't been gelling well since Divisionals so we needed a reminder of how blessed we were to be where we were at.  After the talk, the girls turned it around.  The energy was ignited again and from that moment on, they played totally dialed in and as one unit.  We had the best blocking of our whole season at State.  That made a huge difference when playing Huntley. "It was fun to watch them celebrate big and be all in for one last dance together.”

“Doing what we have done, is honestly a shock,” said Wright. "It is hard to let it sink that we have made history within our school and been part of one of the greatest volleyball rivalries in Class B. I will always be thankful to be a part of this.”

“I am just really excited to be a part of the beginning of Joliet's successful volleyball reign. I hope that this win shows the younger volleyball players where the bar is set for them,” said Bushman. 

“For Joliet, this is the first state title for volleyball so it means a considerable amount,” said Kliner. “I know that the younger girls coming up have that taste of winning and they are going to keep this program alive and strong. Colette, our coach, always pushes the team to the greatest level that it can be, she is an amazing coach. I know that through the coaching and the strong grit of the girls the program is going to stay alive.”

“Winning this State Championship has shown all of the girls on our team and also younger girls throughout our school, that if you put your mind to it and work hard you can achieve anything,”  added Schwend. 

“As I said earlier it is a true honor, being able to see a State Championship on our banner in the gym and knowing I played a big role in that is going to be an amazing feeling that I will never lose as I get older. And it being the only State Championship in our school's volleyball history makes it even cooler,” said Wright.

“I feel super honored that I am an essential part of Joliet School history for the first State win in volleyball,” added Kliner. 

“Being a part of something so great is very exciting and also getting to say that we were the first volleyball team in Joliet School history to win a state title is something I will remember forever,” said Schwend. 

“I am so excited to have my name on that trophy because it is the beginning of something bigger than myself,” said Bushman.