RAYMOND, Ill. -- Watching Payson Seymour serve this season has, at times, been maddening for the average volleyball fan.
All six Indians players hit jump serves, and their aggressive style has led to an average of nearly seven aces per match this season -- as well as 51/2 serving errors.
That devil-may-care attitude, however, paid off Friday night.
Payson Seymour had nine aces -- against just three errors -- in the Class 1A Raymond Super-sectional, and Steeleville struggled throughout the match to handle the Indians' serving in a 25-13, 25-10 blowout that took just 38 minutes to play.
The Indians (39-1) advance to the state tournament for the third time in school history. They will play Newark at 9 a.m. Friday in the semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal. Newark defeated Lexington 25-20, 22-25, 25-19 in the Serena Super-sectional.
Senior Kamryn Flesner said the team stressed serving during practices this week.
"We have troubles returning our own serves in practice. Our serves are that good," she said. "Volleyball is a game where you're going to make errors, and you'll never have a perfect game. The thing is to limit our (serving) errors and stay mentally strong and not let our errors frustrate us."
Josie Stanford, a 6-foot-1 senior who typically does plenty of damage at the net, first made her presence felt at the serving line.
After her kill put Payson Seymour ahead 4-3 in the first set, she had two aces in a five-point serving run. A five-point run with Flesner serving put the Indians ahead 14-5.
Steeleville (22-14) got as close as 17-10, but four kills by Stanford and two from Flesner helped close the first set.
The Warriors consistently struggled to make the first pass to setter Chloe Gordon to get any offense started. They had just four kills in the first set.
"Their offense is a lot quicker than what we're used to," Steeleville coach Lesley Wente said. "That was more of our problem tonight."
Riley Epperson started the second set with three aces. Her fourth serve was dug up, but the pass was tape-high at the net, and Stanford decisively spiked it to the floor.
"When you look at stats, you can kind of tell whether (a team is) used to seeing aces, and they didn't have a lot of aces," Indians coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow said. "You never know for sure, but I suspected they would have trouble handling our serve."
Steeleville called a timeout when the score reached 7-1, and three hitting errors and two serving errors by the Indians helped the Warriors close to 11-7.
"The girls started to battle a little bit more," Wente said. "We got a couple of hits, we got a couple of blocks, and all those things started to help. But I've got to hand it to (Payson Seymour). They're a good offensive team. Their height definitely helped them hitting over our blocks."
Payson Seymour led 14-9 when senior Melina Tedrow went to the serving line. Her array of floaters, pop-ups and line-drive knuckleballs baffled the Warriors. She had two aces, and when Steeleville continually gave up easy three-ball passes and allowed the Indians to run their offense, setter Cassie Eidson got the ball to Stanford five times for kills in a nine-point run.
"We put in so much time making our serves good," Tedrow said. "(Tonight) shows how many hours we've put in and the mental game you have to have when you serve. You have to be ready to play that cat-and-mouse game."
A kill by Karley Kothe stopped the Indians' run, but a Steeleville serving error gave the Indians their 24th point, and a kill by Epperson from the back row finished the match.
"We've put so much blood, sweat and tears into this," Flesner said. "To know you're in the top four, it's the most rewarding feeling you can have."
"This has been my dream," Tedrow said.
However, reaching the state tournament was not the Indians' goal.
"Oh, no," Loos-Tedrow said. "We never said our goal was get to state. Our goal is to be No. 1."