PARK FOREST – Joliet Catholic Academy not only guaranteed its return to the state finals Friday, but did so in less time than it took it to reach the host school of the super-sectional it was competing in.
The Angels made quick work of St. Laurence in the Class 3A Rich East Super-Sectional after jumping out to convincing leads in both sets. In about a half-hour, JCA rolled to a 25-11, 25-7 victory over St. Laurence to advance to next weekend’s Class 3A state finals, which will be held at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
In the opener, JCA grabbed a quick 9-2 advantage and then built up an 18-2 cushion in the finale. That helped to assure coach Christine Scheibe’s program of their ninth state trophy for a semifinal appearance in Class AA or Class 3A in the past 16 seasons.
“We watched some film and scouted them, so I knew that if we just played our volleyball and dictated the pace of the game that we were going to be OK,” Scheibe said. “So I told the girls to go out there, play your own game, and just make sure that you take care of business, and keep your mistakes to a minimum. We had a little bit of a height advantage in the front row, so we were trying to get the ball up to Bella [Ray] and Jillian [Gray].
“We’ve had a lot of adversity during the season, so we’ve come through a lot. But I think that it was all a growing experience that brought them together as a team more. People look at our record, but then if you look at the teams that we lost to, it’s a little more understandable why we have some of those losses, especially with the young team that I have this year.”
Bella Ray led the 27-13 Angels with 14 kills and three blocks as they advanced to a semifinal match at
4 p.m. Friday against 39-1 Sterling, which also used about the same amount of time to claim a 25-12, 25-7 win over Morton at its own sectional. The teams met Aug. 25 at the Metea Valley Invite, and Sterling captured a 25-19, 19-25, 25-19 victory.
Other top JCA performers were Jillian Gray (six kills), Emily Holbrook (six kills), Ryan Hinshaw
(19 assists, two blocks, two aces), Molly Hibner (16 digs) and Sophie Krzysciak (10 digs).
Holbrook was the only member from the current squad who played on the Angels’ last top-four team in 2015, which fell, 2-1, to Marian Central Catholic for the title.
“We came into this [match] confident, and that was very important, and it worked for us,” Ray said. “I thought that it really helped in the second set since we got so far up that we were able to put other people in to give them the chance before we go to state. I’ve been playing with our seniors since I was a freshman, and we’ve all wanted it so bad since we’ve been together for three years. We mesh really well together, and I’ve never been on a team where we’re so close and love each other so much, and that’s what’s gotten us through this season.”
In the opening set, the Angels used four straight service points from Gray to grab a 9-2 lead. Ray had four kills during that span while Gray added two more. The Vikings, who became the school’s first girls team to win a sectional championship, got as close as 13-7 before JCA went on another roll.
It scored 12 of the final 16 points in the opener with Ray getting three kills and a block, Gray adding two kills and Noelle Chovanec and Hinshaw both serving up aces.
“We knew that we still had to come out and play super hard, so we just had to focus when we stepped on the court,” Hinshaw said. “In the last couple of games, we’ve been getting super close as a team, and everybody loves each other, and the reason why that we’ve been playing so hard is that we want to stay with this team for as long as we can. Knowing that we get to go to state with 15 of our best friends is the best part of this whole thing.”
JCA had an even better start in the second set as Krzysciak served up nine straight points to make it 10-1 with Gray supplying two kills and Ray adding a kill and a block. After a kill by Ray put Gray behind the service line, she provided seven straight points to give her team an 18-2 lead. Ray added two kills and a block in that long run.
“We came out really strong and we had a lot of confidence since it’s been our goal all season to get downstate,” Krzysciak said. “The sectional games really helped to prepare for this, and all of our hard work has paid off. We didn’t have the best season record, but we knew from the beginning that if we worked hard, that we could get downstate. We had a lot of young girls, but we were really close, and we’ve just come together.”