Postseason volleyball play begins Monday night in Illinois, and 14 local teams will be participating in six regional tournaments.
Eight of those teams have losing records this season, and anything more than an appearance in a regional championship game would be a surprise for any of them.
Southeastern (20-13) has played a brutal schedule, and it is the No. 4 seed in one of the sub-sectionals at the Brimfield Sectional. The Suns lost 25-9, 25-16 earlier this month to West Prairie, the defending Class 1A state champs, and they likely will meet the Cyclones (25-10) for the regional title in Sciota.
Unity (19-15) is the No. 3 seed in one of the sub-sectionals in the Triopia Sectional, and it figures to have a shot to knock off No. 2 seed Jacksonville Routt if the teams meet for the regional title at the Routt Dome.
Brown County (18-10) received a No. 4 seed in the same sub-sectional. If the Hornets beat Liberty on Tuesday, they earn a rematch with Payson Seymour (35-1), which won 25-20, 25-16 on Sept. 25.
That leaves three teams with at least a chance to play in the state tournament in Normal's Redbird Arena.
Quincy High School and Quincy Notre Dame both have teams capable of winning a handful of postseason games, but the people who put together the IHSA brackets this year didn't do either of them a favor.
The Blue Devils (26-8) open Class 4A regional play at home on Tuesday against Springfield (19-14). A victory would give them a shot at Edwardsville (25-5), the No. 1 seed in one of the sub-sectionals at the Chatham Glenwood Sectional.
Waiting for them in the semifinals of the sectional would be either O'Fallon (28-6) or Belleville East (26-7), which defeated the Blue Devils in three games on Sept. 2. Normal Community (29-5) or Pekin (28-7) looms in the sectional final.
The Blue Devils had won 13 consecutive matches before losing Saturday to Moline. Getting Kayla Mast back into the lineup to go with Sierra Erke and Alexis Wolf has given QHS three hitters who can carry the offense.
"I'm very excited about (the postseason)," QHS coach Kelly Sullivan said after Tuesday's victory over QND. "We wanted to peak at this time of the year. Last year, we didn't do that. We peaked early.
"We have the talent, and not only that, you saw the composure we played with (against QND). That's going to help us."
QND (27-8), which gets to play its Class 2A regional at home, has lost seven matches to 3A or 4A schools, and all of them won at least 23 games. The other loss was to Payson Seymour.
Surviving that schedule makes the Raiders a heavy favorite to advance to the sectional at New Berlin, where they'll face a buzzsaw. Pleasant Plains (26-6) is the likely semifinal opponent, and the Cardinals went 5-0 in the QND Volleyball Bash last weekend. Waiting on the other side of the sectional bracket is Maroa Forsyth (32-3), the top team in Class 2A according to the power ranking compiled by MaxPreps. Pleasant Plains is ranked No. 4 in that poll.
"Our strength of schedule could pay off for us," Raiders coach Rich Meyer said. "We've got a chance to win the regional. Everything after that is gravy."
The postseason goals are a little loftier for Payson Seymour.
The Indians have been dominant this season, losing one set to Hannibal in a victory on Sept. 5 and losing two sets to Class 3A Lincoln on Sept. 29. They are the top team in Class 1A, according to the MaxPreps ranking.
Payson Seymour has not been challenged by many of the local teams on its schedule, but it also has two victories over Champaign St. Thomas More (33-4) and victories over Pleasant Plains, West Prairie, QND, Rock Falls (25-10), Monmouth-Roseville (27-8), Metamora (29-6).
The Indians will be heavily favored to win a regional at home, then likely run into Mount Pulaski (14-18) in the sectional semifinals at Triopia. Payson Seymour routed the Hilltoppers 25-15, 25-11 on Oct. 14 at the St. Thomas More Tournament.
The first playoff test might be against Raymond Lincolnwood in the sectional final, but the Lancers (28-7) ended their season by losing three of four matches on Saturday in the Pawnee Tournament.
The winner at Triopia will meet the Centralia Sectional winner in the super-sectional at Raymond. The top two seeds in Centralia are New Athens (22-10) and Bunker Hill (20-11).
Only two of the top 10 teams in the MaxPreps rankings -- Newark and Lexington -- are on Payson Seymour's side of the bracket, and it wouldn't meet either of them until the semifinals in Normal.
Indians coach Teresa Loos-Tedrow isn't worried about her team's many physical skills as the postseason begins.
"It's all mental at this point," she said. "You have to have a positive mental game, and these girls have just immersed themselves in what we've been learning about being mentally tough."
Six of seven starters are back from last year's 31-6 team, so Payson Seymour followers have been waiting for this time since losing last fall in the regional final to West Prairie.
Loos-Tedrow is trying to make sure her team doesn't peek ahead.
"I don't focus on (the state tournament)," she said. "We have a goal in mind, and we know what that goal is, and when we're at practice, we're working toward that goal. But when we get in the matches, we literally focus on scoring the next point. We have to be mentally tough in the moment.
"There's no doubt in my mind that there's no one physically better than us, but the most talented team doesn't always win the game."