Sluggish start: In mirror image of 2016, Eagles are out of the gate slow

MAHOMET — It’s not the start it expected, but it is eerily familiar.

About this time last year, the Rantoul volleyball team limped out to a 2-11 record to begin the season. It was an inauspicious start, but the Eagles rebounded to win six in a row and seven of eight on the way to a 10-9 finish across the final half of the season.

Now, Traci Riddle’s squad must regroup and do it again in 2017 if it hope to meet its potential and expectations set forth at the beginning of the season.

The Eagles finished 1-4 at Saturday’s Mahomet-Seymour Invitational, bringing their record to 2-10 in the early part of the year.

“This isn’t at all how I expected we would start, but it’s out of our hands right now with a lot of the things that have happened,” Riddle said. “I didn’t expect, in the first game, to lose one of my top players to a concussion. But what do you do? You can’t quit. You have to roll with the punches and figure it out.”

A large part of Rantoul’s poor showings at the M-S Invite and last Saturday’s 1-4 finish at the Centennial Invite can be attributed to attrition.

Senior Logan Andrews went down in the Eagles’ season opener Aug. 31 with a concussion Andrews, who is still recovering and is not expected back into game action for at least one week but probably two weeks, is an integral part of Rantoul’s plans this year for success.

With the starter out, it has forced Riddle to completely re-haul her lineup, shift her strategy and rearrange her rotation — and with fellow senior starter Kaylie Wilson missing the first three matches of the M-S Invite while taking the ACT, it made the head coach rework things even more.

“We had to come up with a completely new rotation, giving us maybe an hour in practice, probably not even that, to go over a whole new lineup,” Riddle said. “(With Wilson gone) I had to completely change my lineup again. When you have to do that, you’re not consistent, and when you’re inconsistent it’s really hard to be successful. It’s hard on the girls because they’re being shifted all around. Successful teams are consistent, and right now we’re not consistent.”

The Eagles, who also lost a match Thursday against Rochester; 21-25, 20-25; started the 16-team tournament in pool play against Champaign Central. The Maroons, who went on to the final four championship bracket of the tourney, defeated Rantoul 25-19, 25-17.

Rantoul then dropped its next game against Tri-Valley, 7-25, 17-25 before winning its lone game of the invite over Effingham St. Anthony, 25-19, 25-23.

The 1-2 finish in pool play put the Eagles in the ninth-place bracket, and that’s where things went further south.

Rantoul got out to a 3-2 lead against Manteno in the first match of the four-team bracket, but Manteno rattled off six straight points to seize control. With the score 9-5, Manteno recorded five consecutive points to put the first set out of reach. Though the Eagles put together a brief four-point rally while trailing 20-11, it wasn’t enough in a 25-17 loss.

The second set was all Manteno, with the Panthers jumping out to a 10-1 advantage on the way to a 25-9 victory.

In the 11th-place match against Oakwood, Rantoul was buried by the Comets’ 11-2 start. The Eagles rallied to pull within 15-11, but following an Oakwood timeout, the Comets outscored Rantoul 10-1 for a 25-12 set win.

It was more of the same in the second set, with the Comets gaining a 10-3 edge before racking up a 20-9 lead on the way to another 25-12 set victory.

“We just stopped talking. We stopped moving,” Riddle said. “They get in their (own) heads and get down, and I keep telling them they need that ‘want to win.’ They have to find it from within.”

Rantoul returned to the court for a nonconference match Monday at Georgetown-Ridge Farm before a nonconference battle at Decatur MacArthur on Thursday.

“I’m struggling finding a constant, consistent leader or leaders, and I don’t know if that’s because we’re being pulled in all different directions or being thrown curveball after curveball,” Riddle said. “We’ve got to roll with the punches. We can only do so much. The talent is there, we just have to roll with the punches.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZCarp11. 

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Volleyball, Sports

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