PAYSON, Ill. -- Cassie Eidson is like a mother robin trying to feed the baby birds as they strain their necks with mouths open in the nest.
The junior setter on the Payson Seymour volleyball team tries to keep all of her hitters happy, and she has plenty of options.
Should she set the ball in the middle for Josie Stanford, the 6-foot-1 senior who is headed to Arkansas State? Maybe she should set the ball outside to Kamryn Flesner, who is second on the team in kills and the emotional sparkplug of the Indians?
How about Riley Epperson, the junior middle hitter who has been proficient from the back row? Or what about underappreciated Hylee Schmiedeskamp, who doesn't get the attention of the other three but still has 122 kills?
Sometimes Eidson must get the ball to a hot hitter. Sometimes she has to take advantage of a hole in the opposing defense. Sometimes she has to make sure a hitter who hasn't got a pass lately stays happy.
"Everybody wants the ball. I get it all the time," Eidson said. "It doesn't faze me. For example, it'll be me, Kamryn and Josie in the front row, and it's the last point. Josie and Kamryn are both like, ‘Hey, get me the ball.' For me, it's whoever gets it gets it.
"They all want the ball. They all talk to me. It's kind of just my choice."
Most of her choices have worked well for the Indians (39-1), who will be gunning for a Class 1A state championship this weekend. Payson Seymour plays Newark at 9 a.m. Friday in the semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Eidson has 912 assists this season for the Indians.
"She's been phenomenal," Payson Seymour coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow said.
However, when practice started in August, Loos-Tedrow would not commit to who the starter would be.
The other five starters from last year's team were back, but Eidson and libero Melina Tedrow worked all summer as the replacement for Kayla Mellon. During summer matches, Eidson and Tedrow would be the setter for every other set.
"I knew Cassie would be OK," Loos-Tedrow said. "I just wasn't sure she was going to be ready. It was here (pointing to her head), not here (showing her hands). The skill level was there."
Eidson had doubts.
"I knew I had to work hard for it, but it was a little nerve-wracking," she said. "I was just panicking and jittery about everything, and I didn't know what Coach was thinking, but I realized that she's going to do what's best for the team."
Eidson eventually figured out that worrying was getting her nowhere.
"I just realized at one practice that, OK, this is ridiculous. Calm down," she said. "Toward the end of the summer, I started slowly setting more, and when the season started, I was like, ‘OK, love you, Melina, but I want to set.' I really focused on it.
"I started to improve when I got rid of those icky jitters."
Putting Eidson in the lineup also allowed Tedrow to stay at libero.
"It made it easier when I knew I would have Melina in the back, nailing that pass to Cassie every time," Loos-Tedrow said. "I knew if she would put that ball up for Cassie, then Cassie was going to make it happen."
Eidson has studied for the past two years with assistant coach Courtney Kvitle, an all-American setter at Wisconsin during her playing days. Not only has she learned how to read her team and read defenses, but Eidson also made strides in improving her passing.
"A lot of it was consistency," she said. "I could get the ball to be hittable, but sometimes it was inside and sometimes it was outside, and sometimes it was too low. My hands are usually good, but if I don't get my body around the ball, it's not a good set. My feet are my problem."
Loos-Tedrow says Eidson's willingness to learn has led to her improvement.
"There are so many things a setter must pay attention to, and she's just wanting to learn all the time," Loos-Tedrow said. "She will do whatever. If someone makes a suggestion to her, she will do everything in her power to make that happen. And when you have a coachable kid, that's all you can ask for."