LANSING | It is heady stuff these days to be a T.F. South volleyball player.
The Rebels are 12-1, winners of 12 straight after an opening loss to Lincoln-Way North, and they've beaten both the team that knocked them out of last year's regionals (Homewood-Flossmoor) and the team that knocked out H-F (Marian Catholic).
Some of the vanquished have been effusive in their praise, to hear South setter Abbe Mullen tell it.
"They say our offense is one of a kind," Mullen said. "They say our hits are the hardest to pass, to block, anything. They just said it's unbelievable how well we play together and how strong we are."
Not that the Rebels are reinventing the wheel. You'll see other schools run trickier offenses, bent on disguising where the set is going. South's attitude more often seems to be, "Here it is, try to stop it."
It's not easy, even in practice, especially with blasters such as Crystal Lee bombing away with incredible power from the outside.
"She gave Jenna Pasko a concussion at practice a few weeks ago," Mullen said. "She was going outside, going for the line, and kind of hit it at Jenna, right in the head. Yeah, she was out."
The Rebels' foes can likely sympathize. Even if they survive Lee rotating through the front row, they don't get a break.
On the outside, if it's not Lee crushing the ball, it's 6-foot-2 Briana Lilly varying the pace. Or Madyson Anthony, another slugger, taking her left-handed swings from both the outside and right-side spots. In the middle, Pasko and Leah Lagestee are both quick-armed and quick-footed, with a knack for finding and blasting holes in the defense. And off the bench comes Mariah Witviliet, like Lee, Lagestee and Pasko, 5-10 and versatile.
Lee leads the team in kills. Lagestee, Lilly and Pasko are in a virtual dead heat for the No. 2 spot. In a recent two-set sweep of H-F, five South hitters had at least three kills.
"All of my hitters are go-to hitters," South coach Kim Sands said. "At any point, any of them can put the ball down. We have no weak links, hitting-wise, and that's what makes the offense go."
South has been building to this moment. Libero Ashtyn Kapovich, Mullen, Lagestee and Lee, the only junior among them, are in their third year on varsity. Pasko, another junior, is in her second year.
Sands made sure Kapovich gets her due, saying, "None of this is possible without my libero and my defense. Kapovich is dead on with her passes, and that's the only thing that allows them to do what they do so well."
And Lagestee suggested the Mullen bandwagon is filled to bursting.
"I think 50 percent of our kills should be given to Abbe because she'll put you where you need to be so you don't get blocked," she said. "That's huge for a setter to do for hitters. Sometimes for other teams, the setter will set their hitters up right into a block. She knows where to go. She has great court sense. She can feel the block. … We love Abbe."
But what does Mullen have to say about her hitters? Here's the rundown:
On Lee: "Crystal, Crystal, Crystal. That girl and I go back and forth on the court, we have so much fun together. She's my No. 1 hitter. I know I can always count on her. With the connection we've made on the court, we've made a great friendship from the last two years. She is one strong girl."
On Lilly: "No one can really block her because of her tallness. Her enthusiasm brings a lot to the court. She helps us get up. When she gets a point, everyone just laughs because of how excited she gets. She has so much fun with it."
On Lagestee: "Leah, I also play club with her, so that helps our connection on the court. This year I haven't been able to set her up as much because of passes and stuff … but she's one of my big hitters I can always count on. She's actually really consistent on the slide. I know I can always get a kill out of her when she runs that."
On Pasko: "She's improved so much from last year. Last year, she did a lot of tipping, because she wasn't really comfortable with hitting as hard as our other hitters were, being new to the team, new to the varsity. But this year she's been pounding it down."
On Anthony: "She's our only lefty on the team. She moved to outside position, which she's been doing really good in. She's also a really strong right side hitter who can hit line really well. She does a great job tipping, being smart with the play."
On Witvliet: "She moved from middle to outside to right side. She's been going back and forth from outside to right side. But she's been really reliable on both. She's been able to make the transition."
All of those hitters give South a chance to win its first conference title since 2008 and first regional since 2004.
"We want to go far this year," Mullen said. "It starts with teamwork and practice. We all have a great connection off the court, which helps a lot, and then when we're on the court … we know where it's going to go."