NORMAL — Next up for the La Salle-Peru volleyball team is one of the most storied programs in the state— Wheaton St. Francis.
St. Francis coach Peg Kopec has more victories than any volleyball coach in state history with 1,158 and she has guided the Spartans to nine state championships, including the 2012 Class 3A title.
The Lady Cavaliers, meanwhile, are making only their second state tournament appearance and first appearance in the title match.
“They’ve been here before and that’s something we don’t have,” L-P senior setter Katie Olson said. “We haven’t been this far before. We’re going to have to come with more fight and energy because we are the underdog.”
Junior middle hitter Mary Boken led St. Francis with nine kills in its 25-20, 25-10 victory over Breese Central in Friday’s second semifinal.
Freshman hitter Kamryn Malloy had six kills, while sophomore Molly Haggerty and senior Becca Shearer had four each.
Sophomore Daniele Messa had 12 assists, senior Natalie Murison had 10 assists and junior Lisa Mordell added nine digs.
“I expect it to be harder competition,” L-P junior Cierra Johnson said. “We’re going to come out with the same aggression and the same want to win the championship.”
When Payton coach Joel Anderson looked onto L-P’s side of the court Friday, he saw a unique defense.
“Their defense is so unorthodox, but it works for them” Anderson said. “They use their hands incredibly well. I’m not surprised they won (35) matches.”
Anderson wasn’t used to seeing a defender in the middle of the court.
“They play a man up defense,” Anderson said. “They stick a person in the middle of the court, which, quite frankly, we have never seen. I don’t think I’ve seen that since the late 80s. They stand there and they take the ball with their hands. It’s a lot like guys volleyball.”
L-P senior Shana Puetz led the defensive effort with a match-high 11 digs. Sophomore Taylor Gibson added nine digs, while senior libero Abby Turczyn contributed six.
Strength in the middle
Entering Friday’s match, L-P coach Mark Haberkorn felt the Lady Cavaliers were stronger than Payton in the middle with 6-foot hitters Rachel Hunt and Ellie Senica compared to the Grizzlies’ Bridget Hayes (5-8) and Juliana Iturralde (5-9).
“Both of our middles have had good years,” Haberkorn said. “Both block well, both run hard and that was where we found we had a little advantage tonight. That’s where we attacked a little bit more.”
Hunt finished with a match-high seven kills, while Senica added four.
When Olson peers across the court today, she’ll a familiar face in St. Francis senior libero Sam Dubiel, who Olson played with on Club Fusion.
“I’ve never played against her before at any point in time, so it’s going to be completely different,” Olson said. “You’re probably going to see us smile at each other because it’s going to be fun to play against her. You always want to play against someone you know.”
Dubiel had four digs in St. Francis’ semifinal win and she has 601 on the season.
“She’s a great defensive player,” Olson said. “She reads a lot. She’s going to the University of Florida. She’s going to dig a lot of stuff we have coming. Personally, I’m going to have to try to trick her and get one block so maybe she can’t pass as well.”
Olson also played against St. Francis sisters Molly and Maddie Haggerty in club volleyball.
Fieldcrest to see familiar foe
The Lady Knights went a long way in the postseason only to run into a familiar foe in its final game.
After Fieldcrest fell 25-22, 25-17 to Edwards County in Friday’s 2A state semifinal, it will play at approximately 12:25 p.m. today for third place against Heart of Illinois Conference rival Deer Creek-Mackinaw, which fell to Immaculate Conception by the same 25-22, 25-17 score in its semifinal.
“A loss is a loss but what you do with it dictates what is going to happen (today),” Fieldcrest coach Cathy Sanders said. “I think we’ll be ready for sure against Dee-Mack.”
It will be the third match between the teams this season. Dee-Mack won both as it took the regular season contest 25-22, 25-18 and then won 25-22, 23-25, 25-19 in the HOIC Tournament championship.
“We’ve played them twice already and the first time they beat us in two, but it was still very close,” Fieldcrest senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Petersen said. “The second time we took them to three, so maybe the third time is the charm and this time we’ll win.”
The Lady Knights had the support of the entire Fieldcrest community Friday.
With the Lady Knights playing in the 2A state semifinal, Fieldcrest canceled school Friday so that students and teachers could attend the match.
“It was definitely awesome to see so many people here,” Petersen said. “There were so many students here and so many people from the community that have no relation to anybody on the team. It was nice to have that community support behind us.”
Even in defeat, the Lady Knights still felt like winners.
“I think it’s flattering to see all those people come out and all the students come out,” Sanders said. “They have our backs and hopefully we’ve converted some into being volleyball fans.”
Some of those fans even thanked Fieldcrest players and coaches for getting them out of school.
“I got some (thanking me),” Sanders joked. “They just don’t realize that they have to be in school in February now.”
Kevin Chlum and Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow them on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor or @NT_SportsJared.