Photo by Jeff Vorva
McAuley volleyball players show off their championship trophy to their fans Saturday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
NORMAL – Of course it was going to go three sets.
Of course it was not going to be easy.
But in the end, Mother McAuley, ranked No. 1 in in the nation by prepvolleyball.com, hoisted the Illinois High School Association Class 4A championship trophy after beating Minooka 25-19, 19-25, 25-19 Saturday night at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University. It was their 15th state volleyball title – the most by any school in Illinois – and coach Jen DeJarld’s second.
“After last year (losing in the sectional final to Benet) we wanted to be stronger this year,” said junior Charley Niego, who had 14 kills and 15 digs in the title match. “We’ve been in a lot of pressure situations this year and it prepared us for this.’’
Katie O’Connell added 11 kills and 13 digs while Nancy Kane had 31 assists and Emma Reilly 14 digs for the Macs, who finished 40-1.
Credit a rugged schedule, including a trip to Louisville in which McAuley suffered its lone loss (to St. Louis’s St. Joseph Academy) and its own Asics Tournament as helping the Mac blossom into a team that didn’t wilt under pressure.
“This one is special for a different reason,” DeJarld said. “Early in the season, it took a while for us to fire on all cylinders. Once we went to Louisville and played in a tough tournament, I saw them fight back and I saw a real strong quality in them. They’re fighters. A lot of them have never won a championship. A lot of them don’t play for highly successful club teams that win at high levels.’’
The Mighty Macs came into the final four with shovels as they dug themselves into five holes in five sets in a sectional championship victory over Marist and a supersectional victory over Geneva. Against Geneva, the Macs were down 21-12, 17-14 and 11-4 in each set but pulled off a 22-25, 25-20, 25-21 victory over the Vikings at Hinsdale South on Nov. 5.
Somewhere between its Chicago campus and Redbird Arena, the Macs seemed to lose those shovels along Interstate 55 as they took 8-3 and 15-4 leads each set in the semifinals Friday en route to a 25-13, 25-15 win over Niles West to get to the Minooka match.
The Macs hitters were on fire, registering a blazing .490 hitting percentage – committing just three errors in 51 attacks. Niego led the Way with 14 kills while O’Connelll added seven and Kane came up with 21 assists against Niles.
But on Saturday, someone found the shovels and the Macs trailed 5-1 quickly and lost in that set and with Minooka having all the momentum and a fan section going crazy, the Indians (35-7) grabbed a quick 2-0 lead before the Macs had enough and scored four straight and never trailed the rest of the way.
“We knew it was do-or-die and had to keep scoring points,” Niego said. “Every point mattered.’’
In an example of how statistics can lie, McAuley had a .169 hitting percentage and Minooka a .112, which, on the surface, looks like it could have been a sloppy match. True there were 38 errors to go with 74 kills, but there were plenty of attempts that were blocked or saved
“There were power hitters on both sides and great defense,” DeJarld said.
Minooka junior Alli Papesh led the Indians with 20 kills while junior Rocky Perinar added 12.
Other members of the Mighty Macs championship roster were Maddie Dederichs, Ashley Maher, Abby O’Brien, Paige Pappas, Evie Gorman, MaryKate Boland, Bridget Burke, Amandaa Horn, Nora Burke, Casey Macander, Moira Mixan and Becca Stepanek.
The Marian kind
Marian Catholic of Chicago Heights beat Marian Central Catholic of Woodstock, 25-22, 22-25, 25-22 in a battle of East Suburban Catholic Conference powers to win the Class 3A title.
The champs, 32-9, knocked Chicago Christian out in regional play and Queen of Peace in Supersectional play en route to Normal.
During the regular season, the Spartans lost to Sandburg, Mother McAuley and Marist. It was after a 25-17, 25-17 loss to the RedHawks Sept. 27 that they ran the table and won their final 18 matches.