Loyola posed the challenge that Larkin coach Henry Graack anticipated on Thursday, with a pair of tough outside hitters and a quality setter feeding them the ball.
Ramblers setter Katie Randolph fed hitters Christina Reed and Olivia Van Zeist as Loyola dined on a regional title, winning 25-15, 25-15 over the host Royals at Tuesday’s Class 4A Larkin Regional.
“(Reed) is a good player and we knew she’d get her kills,” Graack said. “They played how I thought they would. They’re a good team.”
As the top seed at Maine East, Loyola (24-9) hopes to stay hungry in a sectional semifinal against fourth-seeded Evanston on Tuesday.
Reed shined throughout the win in finishing with six kills and two aces. Most importantly to Ramblers coach Mark Chang, his junior turned a corner late in the season and has not looked back.
“She has really shown some guts during the last leg of our season,” Chang said. “She was taking a nice big approach in the back row, and when you have that as part of your offense, a lot of things open up for you.”
Reed boiled down her late-season progress to one invaluable quality.
“I’ve just been trying to be more aggressive on every ball,” she said. “I’m taking a swing on every ball. You don’t want to make a mistake and get subbed out but you have to take those swings.”
Van Zeist had four kills and two aces, and Randolph finished with 21 assists.
Tenth-seeded Larkin (12-25) played Loyola even for a good part of Game 1 before Reed stepped to the service line late. Loyola led 19-15 when Larkin called a timeout, but Reed capped a 6-0 run with an ace to end it.
Larkin cut Loyola’s lead to 9-7 in Game 2 on an ace from Mackenzie Malone but the Ramblers went on a 7-0 run to take control, including a kill from Kate Pillion and an ace from Van Zeist.
A Van Zeist kill gave Loyola a 22-14 lead and the junior later ended the night with an ace.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team,” Reed said. “They’re absolutely fabulous and recently everything has begun to click.”
Larkin will graduate a pair of invaluable seniors in Danielle Newquist and Mia Gill, but will have a large stable of returnees led by sophomore setter Natalie Kofie and libero April McGhee.
“I told the girls to make sure they went out with no regrets, to give their best,” Graack said. “They worked their butts off for sure, diving all over the place and playing good defense.”
Gill had six kills and six digs, Kofie had 12 assists and eight digs, and Newquist had three kills and an ace. Ella Riddle-Roland finished with three aces, two digs, and one kill.
“It’s been a great season, really fun,” Gill said. “We tried our best and that’s all we can do. I thought we played really well. We used our defense to our advantage and that’s what we’re best at.”