The site of the Class 4A regional championship match between Benet and St. Charles North was switched to Benet at the last minute Thursday when all after-school activities, including sports, were cancelled at Neuqua Valley.
Not that the Redwings needed any additional advantage.
Benet opened the match on a 12-6 run and closed it on a 12-6 run to defeat St. Charles North, 25-11, 25-21, and advance to next week’s sectional at Bartlett.
“We’re just excited to play,” said sophomore setter Sara Nielsen, who finished with 30 assists, three kills and two aces. “There are a lot of really good teams in Benet history, but this is a new team. This is a new group of girls. We just want to take it as far as we can with this group.”
Benet (36-1) put the pedal to the floor early in Game 1, riding the hot hands of Dana Griffin and sophomore Veronica Snelling en route to a 19-8 lead.
“We were playing as a team really well and just working together and executing everything we’ve been working on,” Snelling said. “We were just flowing well in the first set. The passes were there. Sara’s sets were great. It was all going well.
But St. Charles North (27-10) changed its lineup in Game 2, hung with the Redwings early and eventually ran off four straight points to take a 15-13 lead and force a Benet timeout.
“We were trying to match up in that first set with our better blockers with their better hitters,” St. Charles North coach Lindsey Hawkins said. “They were hitting some amazing shots that I don’t know how they were hitting.
“In the second set, we tried to put our big block up first. I thought the girls responded well in the second set. They started getting used to what Benet was running and the tempo they were running.”
Benet took the lead for good at 19-18 on a kill by Rachael Fara, and Snelling’s tip over the block at match point sent the Redwings to their eighth consecutive sectional appearance.
“St. Charles North is a good team,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “They have some good offensive players. They have some big kids all over the place. They start four six-footers. They have size and they know how to play. They were conference champs for a reason. They’re a good team.”
Junior Claire Anderson led the North Stars with seven kills. 6-1 junior Jaclyn Taylor had four kills, three blocks and 10 assists, 6-3 junior Daley Krage added five kills and a block, Taryn Del Degan had 13 assists and Megan Russell added nine digs.
Benet got nine kills each from Snelling and Griffin. Marissa Tassone added five kills and two blocks, Fara added four kills and two blocks, Tiffany Clark had four kills and six digs and Natalie Canulli added 12 digs.
“It’s a tough draw,” Hawkins said. “You got to take it for what it is. Benet is a great team. They clearly came to play despite everything that was going on.”