NORMAL, Ill. — Newark volleyball coach Tonya Grayson was determined not to let Payson Seymour's Josie Stanford beat her.
That part of her game plan worked. Stanford, who led the Indians with 391 kills this season, was limited to four kills in Friday morning's Class 1A semifinal game at Redbird Arena.
Grayson admitted she was willing sell out defending Stanford and take her chances with the Indians' outside hitters. That part of the game plan, however, didn't go so well.
With the Norsemen's blockers concentrating on Stanford in the middle, Kamryn Flesner had 12 kills and teammate Hylee Schmiedeskamp had six -- all from the outside -- as the Indians overcame a shaky first set and showed why they are the favorite to win the state title in a 25-21, 25-13 victory.
Saturday morning's state championship game will be only the second title game in any sport in Payson Seymour history. The softball team lost the title game in 2012.
Payson Seymour (40-1) will play Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. WSS defeated Durand 27-25, 24-26, 25-19 in Friday's other semifinal.
The Indians, who have lost only three sets this season, trailed 19-13 in the first set before rallying. Flesner and Riley Epperson both had three kills each in the comeback, and the set ended with a block by Stanford, an ace by Epperson and another block by Stanford.
Players and coaches alike promised they were not worried in the first set.
"A few nerves? Yeah," Schmiedeskamp said. "But we turn those nerves into energy. Worried? No."
"If we were worried, we would not be sitting here," senior libero Melina Tedrow said.
Grayson thought losing the first set ended any momentum her team built early in the game.
"(Payson) came on," she said. "They came out a little slow, and we came out on fire, but they started to gradually find their groove. When a team does that, especially when you're coming back from a deficit, they take a ton of momentum."
An ace by Stanford capped a four-point run that put Payson Seymour ahead 9-4 in the second set. Newark got as close as 11-8 on a kill by Rachel Testin, but Schmiedeskamp had a cross-court kill and Newark's Mattie Chapman followed with two hitting errors.
"Let's face it. Hylee was phenomenal today," Indians coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow said.
The Norsemen never got closer than five points thereafter.
Flesner and Schmiedeskamp combined for 28 kill attempts, while Stanford only had 13. Epperson also was effective with six kills in 13 attempts.
"They were really sticking with Josie, and that's smart, but we have so many big guns on our team," Schmiedeskamp said. "I loved it."
"During the game, Josie's like, 'I'm drawing the block. Keep feeding Kamryn,'" setter Cassie Eidson said. "(Flesner and Schmiedeskamp) were getting kills every time. When they're still sticking to Josie, there's no need to go to her. She could get a kill, but there's no point if we could get a really good kill."
Newark had just two blocks against the Indians.
"We were overmatched on the outside size-wise," Grayson said. "We were just smaller, and their outsides were getting over the top of our block. That's them. That's not anything we did wrong. Their outsides started taking it to us. Hats off to them."
Newark trailed 19-13 when the Indians closed on a six-point run. Three kills by Flesner fueled the surge, and the match ended on a hitting error by talented freshman Madi Malone, who led Newark with eight kills and six hitting errors.
The Indians are one victory away from the goal that was set in August.
"It's so exciting," Eidson said. "We were holding back tears when we were hugging. It's hard to put into words. At the beginning of the year, we're like, 'We're going to go to state, we're going to go to state.' Now, we're at state. We're here, and its crazy."