The 1997 Salem Lady Wildcats Volleyball team went where no team in the program’s history had ever gone before and no team has made it that far since at the time of their induction into the Salem High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Returning a large nucleus from the 1996 team that won 26 games and was a sectional finalist, the 1997 Lady Wildcats smashed the school record for wins in a season by going 31-5 and advanced to the Class AA Sweet 16.

All four regular season losses came during tournament play. Salem was third at the Carbondale Tournament beating Marion, Mt. Carmel and St. Jacob Triad (twice), but fell in the semifinals to eventual champ Belleville Althoff.

The Lady Wildcats were sixth in the gold medal division at the always rugged Effingham Crossroads Classic. Salem won its pool by beating Dieterich and Montgomery County, Mo. The Lady Wildcats also downed Kansas during bracket play, but were upended by Hartsburg-Emden and Normal University High during the medal round.

Salem posted a third place finish at the Edwards County Tournament. The Lady Wildcats won their pool by beating Mt. Vernon, Cisne and Mt. Carmel before falling to Kansas in the semifinals. Salem Wildcats closed out the tournament with a win over Fairfield.

Salem picked up its 20th win of the season during the straight-set victory at home over Effingham St. Anthony and clinched the program’s seventh straight North Egypt Conference championship with a 15-13, 15-1 victory at Fairfield in the regular season finale. Salem went through the NEC season with a perfect 7-0 mark and in the process extended its league winning streak to 23 games.

The Lady Wildcats made school history during the first rung of the postseason ladder when they downed Mt. Vernon 15-0, 15-1 in the semifinal round of the Centralia Regional, as their 28th win of the season broke the previous mark of 27 held by the 1987 team. Coach Suzanne Henry’s crew won that regional two days later when it beat the host school 15-4, 15-0.

A 15-10, 15-8 victory over Charleston in the first game of the Olney Sectional was the 30th of the season for the Lady Wildcats and a 15-8, 15-4 win over Taylorville in the championship match gave Salem its first sectional championship.

The Lady Wildcats returned home for the super-sectional, but their hopes of advancing to the state tournament were derailed when they fell to Belleville East 15-1, 15-5.

Salem achieved its success despite having only two seniors on its roster, setter Marissa Tolliver and outside hitter Shannon Ozaras.

Seven Lady Wildcats earned All-NEC honors led by Audrey Husk’s second straight Most Valuable Player Award. Tolliver and Megan Grizzle were NEC First Team selections, while Chandra Hensley and Trisha Hustedde were Second Team. Ozaras and Renee Brubaker received Honorable Mention.