NORMAL – It was the match that most had been looking forward to all season long in girls volleyball, and it definitely didn't disappoint.
The state's top two teams met in Saturday's Class 4A championship at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena with both Marist and Minooka seeking to win their first titles.
In the opening week of the season, the RedHawks won in three sets over the Indians to not only establish themselves as the team to beat in Illinois, but also to help them move to second place in the national rankings.
But after falling in three sets in last year's title match, to eventual national champion Mother McAuley, coach Carrie Prosek's Indians were determined to not fall short again.
After already making history by becoming the first area team to advance to consecutive title matches in the large-school division and also becoming the first girls program from their school to play for back-to-back titles, the Indians hoped to take the next step.
And with all six of their key returners from a year ago turning in strong performances, the Indians won the opener and jumped out to an early 8-4 lead in the final set before Marist took control and rallied for a 22-25, 25-22, 25-15 victory to cap a 41-1 campaign while Minooka wound up with a 39-3 final record.
"They're a phenomenal team and their outside hitters tore us up," Prosek said. "They didn't have many errors, they put the ball on the court, where as we didn't. Their setter is great and I have to give credit to my sophomore setter (Zoey Seput), wjo did a great job on a court full of seniors. Our serve-receive and defense were great, but we had too may unforced errors.
"But I'm not disappointed. As I told our girls, how many public schools can say that they've been here two years in a row, and for that I'm proud of them since they've made history. Our goal was to win state, and who's goal is not to win state? We had a great group of girls and they've started a chemistry in our program for making kids want to believe in themselves and love the game. We have a good lower-level program and hopefully it feeds off this success."
In the finale, the Indians took an 8-4 lead following a kill from Alli Papesh (11 kills, three blocks) and a kill and block from Rocky Perinar (12 kills). But then the RedHawks stormed back to go up 10-8 and they led the rest of the way. Marist took took advantage of hitting errors to begin to pull away and then ended things by securing its final four points on kills.
Marist took leads of 12-9 and 20-17 in the middle set before Minooka tied it at 20-20 following a block and a kill from Holly Bonde (five kills, five blocks). After another tie at 21-21 on a kill by Perinar, the Indians went up 22-21 on a kill by Bonde.
But the RedHawks responded with kills from Maggie Meyer (nine kills) and Savannah Thompson (14 kills, 13 digs, .324 hitting percent) prior to a pair of wide hits.
In the opener, Minooka grabbed the early 10-6 lead but Marist rallied for a 12-11 advantage. It went back-and-forth until the Indians again opened things up.
A block by Samantha Hermann (four blocks) and Bonde and a kill by Perinar made it 17-14 and then two kills and a block from Perinar extended the cushion to 21-16. The RedHawks were able to close to within 24-22 before Papesh ended the set with a kill.
Other leaders for the Indians were Taylor Baranski (20 digs), Zoey Seput (26 assists) and Olivia Klank (five blocks). Also for Marist, Molly Murrihy handed out 32 assists, Katie Hogan had six blocks and Grace Green added 13 digs.
Both squads had many hitting errors. The RedHawks made 12 of their 25 in the first set while the Indians had eight of their 23 in the finale. Marist hit .333 in the final set to finish with a .142 rate while Minooka only hit .075 in that set and had a .071 percentage on the night.