By Randy Whalen
Shepard and Homewood-Flossmoor both entered last Thursday's Class 4A regional championship match with long droughts since their last postseason titles.
The Vikings hadn't captured a regional championship since 2002, while the Astros last was in 1992, when they completed a string of four straight.
So, something had to give. Unfortunately for Shepard, it was H-F’s streak that was broken.
Led by a great all-around game by Allison Faoro, the Vikings defeated Shepard 25-16, 25-20 on Oct. 31 in the title match of the Class 4A Homewood-Flossmoor Regional.
Shepard (26-11), which upset the Vikings 25-19, 22-25, 25-15 in a regional semifinal last season, lost in the regional title match for the third straight season.
The third-seeded Vikings (30-6) lost to sixth-seeded Andrew, 25-21, 21-25, 25-23 in the Monday in the semifinals of the Sandburg Sectional. They faced Sandburg Wednesday in the finals.
The Eagles defeated Lockport, 25-23, 21-25, 25-13, in the other semifinal.
Against H-F, junior outside hitter Katie Rohe paced the Astros with five kills and senior outside hitter Ellie Hall added four kills. Junior libero Leah Bylut brought up 13 digs, sophomore setter Kaila Butvilas had nine assists and two aces, and junior setter/outside hitter Autumn Molenhouse added seven assists.
"We can't let the last match color the story of our season," Shepard coach Brian Zofkie said. "We had 26 wins, that's the fifth most in school history, and we won a conference title in the South Suburban Red.
The opening set between Shepard and H-F was tied at every point through 6-6. Then the Vikings’ Allison Faoro found an opening for a kill to start a 4-0 run and the hosts led the rest of the match. Ahead 11-9, they went on a 10-3 spurt to pull away. Senior middle hitter Journey Barsh banged a block and a kill in the burst.
Faoro continued her strong play as she opened the second set with five straight service points, including an ace. Sophomore right side hitter Jasime Heyward (six kills) and senior middle blocker Miara Bolden (four blocks) helped the Vikings extend to an 18-10 advantage.
"Allison Faoro stepped up and had a heck of a match for them," Zofkie said. "We were focused on taking (senior outside hitter) Lia Sidberry and Journey Barsh out of the game and for the most part did a good job on them. But [Faoro] stepped up and had a huge match for them."
The Astros clawed back within 19-16 on the help of an ace by junior defensive specialist Ella Aleman (two aces) and later within 22-19 on an ace by senior middle hitter Mackenzie Jasudowicz. But that was as close as they got.
In the regional semifinals on Oct. 29, Shepard slipped past Romeoville 23-25, 25-23, 25-14.
Zofkie was concerned his squad might look past the No. 10 seeded Spartans, and it nearly happened. Although Shepard was up 20-15 in the second set before Romeoville (10-21) made it close.
Rohe (15 kills), Molenhouse (14 assists, 14, kills, 11 digs), Bylut (12 digs, 3 assists), and Butvilas (12 assists) led the Astros in the semifinal match.
There were only three seniors listed on the Shepard postseason roster. They were Hall, Jasudowicz, and middle hitter Nicole Walsh.
"We're losing some seniors but I'm hoping we take advantage of a lot of us being back and take it all the way next year." Rohe said. "No matter what happens, we were always a family and always had each others’ backs."