Time is cyclical, or so they say.
The 2016 Pekin volleyball team is circling back 24 years.
The 1992 team set a school record for most matches without a loss to begin a season, going 18-0 before suffering a loss in its 19th match on the way to a 23-2 mark and a loss in regionals.
This year, the Lady Dragons have gone 15-0-1 and 6-0 in Mid-Illini Conference play and are two wins away from matching the ‘92 team’s mark of 18 matches to begin a season without a loss.
In 1992, the team had the ferocious Welch sisters — Priscilla and Yvonne. Though their names have changed, Yvonne Thompson and Priscilla DeLaere are still on the sidelines to watch the 2016 run; Thompson as head coach and DeLaere as an assistant and sophomore coach.
Thompson’s squad — ranked No. 9 in the state by MaxPreps — isn’t looking ahead to breaking the school record. In fact, the Lady Dragons don’t pay attention to the “hoopla” surrounding the team or the increased attention they have garnered over the last 16 matches.
“The kids know where they’re at right now,” Thompson said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time and whatever happens towards the end will be bittersweet no matter what happens.”
DeLaere said the ‘92 team was “more specialized” than this year’s team. Thompson was a standout defensive player, DeLaere was an attacker and Monica Peck was the setter. Predominately playing in the middle, DeLaere recalled few times she hit on the left side of the court during a game.
The 2016 Pekin team offers more versatility. Standout junior Hannah Thompson — Yvonne’s daughter — plays all over the court alongside fellow outside hitter Maddy Cash. The entire team fluctuates positions around the court.
There are similarities between the teams, however. Athleticism and desire to make a name are the common threads that lace the two teams together — despite the 24-year difference.
“Priscilla and I bawled (after the last match in 1992) because we gave our all to that program,” Yvonne Thompson said. “It’s something to say for any player that comes through Pekin and says, ‘When I’m done, I’m a Dragon.’ I think these girls feel they’re true Dragons. ... They want to leave a name like we did back in ‘92.”
While the ‘92 team had chemistry, the 2016 team takes it to a new level. Players-only dinners and team meetings are common for this season’s team. They share their knowledge of the game and create bonds; the result has been a lack of animosity on the team, according to Yvonne Thompson.
Though some girls have only played together for a few years, the team has found a rhythm.
“We’ve got girls who know the game, even though they came from different junior highs,” DeLaere said. “They’re finally jelling as a close-knit group, which is almost better than ‘92.”
Pekin placed fourth in the Mid-Illini Conference last season — its highest finish since joining the conference in 2006 — with a 8-6 mark.
After the Quincy Early Bird Tournament on Sept. 3, the team knew it was on the way to something special, Thompson said.
“The girls played so well together and the chemistry was so good that the kids thought, ‘This is going to be a good season,’” Thompson said.