The sight was a welcome one for La Salle-Peru head volleyball coach Mark Haberkorn and Lady Cavalier fans alike.
This past Thursday on L-P's Senior Night against NCIC Reagan Division foe Sterling, senior setter Heather Smith entered the match, served one volleyball over the net, played back row for one point and was quickly subbed out.
Just being out on the floor was an accomplishment for Smith, a Western Illinois recruit.
On Sept. 15 against Dixon, Smith dropped low to the court to save a ball and her ankle buckled, leaving the Reagan Division All-Conference player writhing in pain.
The injury turned out to be a Jones fracture in her fifth metatarsal, which is actually located in her foot. Her outlook for the rest of the season was dim.
Well, her presence may be a sight for sore eyes again this weekend in the Class 3A Ottawa Regional.
There is a possibility Smith may take the floor once again for the Lady Cavaliers should they advance to Saturday's Class 3A Ottawa Regional title match.
"I see the doctor (today), and hopefully I will be released," Smith said at practice Monday night. "I have been working so hard in therapy, busting my tail here trying so hard to get back. Last week it kind of seemed that I kind of took two steps forward and one step back because I pushed myself maybe a little bit too hard on Wednesday, but this week it feels really good and maybe I can get going again and do some running and jumping again."
All the Lady Cavaliers (30-2-1) need to do is get to that title match and see if their captain can take the floor once more.
Standing in the way are three teams L-P is a combined 5-0 against already this season.
No. 1-seeded L-P is scheduled to play No. 4-seeded Ottawa (2-25) in the regional semifinals Thursday night at 6 p.m. in Ottawa's Kingman Gymnasium.
In the second match of the night Thursday, No. 2-seeded Pontiac takes on No. 3-seeded Streator. The semifinals winners will then play Saturday in the championship at 6 p.m. in Ottawa for the right to move on to the Class 3A Dunlap Sectional.
L-P is 1-0 against Pontiac and 2-0 against fellow Reagan Division foes Ottawa and Streator this season.
"This is the time of year when, I know it is said many times and in many places, you just can't look past anybody," La Salle-Peru head coach Mark Haberkorn said. "In this game momentum changes so fast and weird things seem to happen."
Weird things rarely happen to L-P in the regional the past three years.
The Lady Cavaliers are aiming for their third consecutive regional championship under Haberkorn, and in the previous two regional titles, L-P has dominated, going 4-0 in matches and 8-0 in games.
In the regional-winning stretch, L-P has allowed a meager average of 14.4 points per game to opponents, and the closest anyone has come to beating the Lady Cavaliers in a regional game - not match, game - the past two years was when Rock Island Alleman took an early lead before dropping a 25-21 result to L-P in game one of the Class 3A Rock Island Regional semifinals in 2008.
"I think that we have been calm not only in our regionals but also our sectionals," Haberkorn said. "I think that we have gone in with a good mindset like, â€˜We're here to play volleyball. We're going to do the best we can and play to our ability.' This one I don't think is going to be any different."
If L-P plays to the best of its ability, look out.
The Lady Cavaliers are bolstered by 6-foot senior middle hitter Kalli Herron, a Northern Michigan recruit who averages 8.1 kills per match this season.
She is joined by southpaw senior right-side hitter Brittnee Wojciechowski, a University of Illinois-Springfield recruit who puts down 5.5 kills per match.
"We're No.1 and everybody is going to be looking out for us," Haberkorn said of the regional's seeding. "If we happen to get by Ottawa then we have to play Streator for a third time or Pontiac for a second time. Pontiac plays in a very tough conference, and if they happen to beat Streator, so they have a little advantage with their strength of schedule."
Haberkorn's advantage could be having two strong setters should Smith return.
Smith was averaging 16.3 assists per match before the injury against Dixon in L-P's 5-1 offense. With Smith out, junior setter Courtney Carey stepped up and is doling out an average of 17.8 assists per match for the Lady Cavaliers.
The success of both Smith and Carey could mean a very tough-to-beat 6-2 offense if both grace the court together this postseason.
"My goal is to be back for postseason and help this team as much as I can," Smith said. "The team has been doing absolutely phenomenal. I have major props, especially for Courtney Carey. She has really stepped up and taken this team under her wing and really showed (Haberkorn) what she could do. Maybe we could be running a 6-2 just because we have so much more confidence in her being able to run the other setting position."
Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at email@example.com.