It may have been a few years since Marilyn Akey was on the sidelines, but the former Marian Catholic girls volleyball coach will be pretty nervous tonight.
She won't be at Redbird Arena in Normal, where the Spartans will face favored Woodstock Marian Central in one Class 3A semifinal, but in New York for a family function. But she said she will be with the team in spirit.
"Oh, I guess I will be a little nervous because I want them to do well," Akey said. "I will be following on the IHS's website (ihsa.org) and will try to keep an eye for what they are doing."
If she sees the Spartans down a few points or up, say, 10-6, what will she do?
"I'll probably say, 'Come on, girls build on that lead, put (the game) away.' I think this is very exciting for them," Akey said. "I know it is for me. It is really good for them to get to state. It is quite the experience.
"This is a great reward for all the hard work they put in the summer and the season."
Akey led the 2002 Spartans to their only state appearance when it was a two-class tourney. Marian fell to Barrington 15-6, 10-15, 15-6 in one Class AA quarterfinal match. She still has great memories of that team and the season in which the Spartans were 28-11.
"A great group of kids," Akey said. "They worked so hard and put in the time. There was not one selfish kid on that team, and that is what you need to be successful."
Much like this year's Spartans, who struggled a bit in September, started winning and never stopped, taking an eight-match winning streak into tonight's contest.
"We had kids that when someone was struggling, they picked them up," Akey said. "Katie Willard, Brittany Stewart, Michelle Truszkowski and Liz Kane. That group loved the game and loved playing together."
Akey coached 13 years, compiling a 287-205 record, and is enjoying retirement and her family.
"I have five grandchildren and a sixth one on the way," Akey said. "But I have some time to root for Marian. I wish them the best."
Next year, Marian will move to Class 4A as part of the IHSA's new multiplier change. If you are successful, like winning two straight regionals or a sectional, and you are a nonboundaried school, you move up. That is not exactly a reward for winning. If you don't win in the postseason, you can stay at a lower class.
Can you make heads or tails of it?
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.