Benet still hungry for state title

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Benet senior Dana Griffin wants to remind everybody that the Redwings have not won anything yet.

“(Beating Mother McAuley) was a big match, a big obstacle to overcome,” Griffin said. “But we know we have a lot of work to do. We have all week to practice and we’re going to work to make sure we get all the way through state.”

Benet (39-1) will continue its quest for a third state title in four years Friday at 7:30 p.m. when it takes on hometown favorite Normal in the first of two Class 4A semifinals at Redbird Arena.

You can bet Benet won’t be taking anybody lightly this weekend.

“(Defeating McAuley) was not the state championship,” coach Brad Baker said. “Does it help prepare us for it? No question that it does. But you don’t get to the final four if you’re not playing well. That’s what we expected Saturday and that’s what we need to prepare for those teams downstate to play.

“We have to prepare ourselves to play well. If we don’t, if you take anybody lightly down there, you lose. You see it all the time. You see teams go down there and take things lightly, and they don’t end up with the result that they wanted.”

Normal (35-4) overcame a 13-3 deficit in the first game and a six-point deficit in Game 2 to defeat Plainfield North 25-22, 26-24 at the Normal West supersectional. The Ironmen are led by setter Erika Peoples, outside hitter Micki Quakenbush and middle Machayla Leonard.

Here is a look at the other semifinals:

Class 3A

Montini (23-11) vs. Joliet Catholic (24-16), 4:30 p.m.

The Angels, winners of six straight and 15 of their last 19, are making their seventh trip downstate in the last 12 years. Setter Mary Murphy joins sisters Kelly (2007 Sun-Times Player of the Year) and Jenn (two state championships) as a state qualifier.

“Mary has been a force for us, either with her play or her leadership, but the great thing is we have all six hitters, our two setters, and our three backrow players all on the same page,” coach Chris Scheibe said. “We are playing excellent volleyball.”

The same could be said for tournament newcomer Montini, which struggled through a brutal midseason schedule that included matches with St. Francis, New Trier, Lyons and Sandburg but has rebounded to win its last seven. St. Louis recruit Monica Loftus leads the Broncos.

“Our team is playing the best ‘together’ volleyball we have played all season,” coach Steve Dowjotas said. “We have been playing with a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude and our focus is incredible. Everything is clicking at the right time. We are getting huge contributions for every single player on our team.”

St.  Francis (36-4) vs. Breese Mater Dei (37-3), 6 p.m.

Two of the most storied programs in the state collide in the second Class 3A semifinal. Mater Dei has won seven state championships and will be making its 22nd state tournament appearance. However, it’s the first trip for the Knights since winning back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.

Chad Rakers, who succeeded his legendary father, the late Fred Rakers, counts on 5-9 senior outside hitter Elle Gebke, 5-11 senior setter/opposite and Madi Haake and junior Kelly Voss, who led the Knights past Mattoon and Eastern Illinois recruit Taylor Smith in the supersectional.

Last year, St. Francis coach Peg Kopec became the first coach in Illinois to win 10 state titles. This year, she’s looking for No. 11. Leading the way for the Spartans is Molly Haggerty, arguably the country’s best junior, who had 339 kills, 49 blocks and 20 aces prior to the tournament.

“Molly is an exceptional talent,’’ Kopec said. “She is so very strong with both height and vertical.  She is the best blocker I have seen.  Molly can hit from any position including back row.  She is a threat at all times.”

Class 4A

Loyola (27-9) vs. Libertyville (34-6), 9 p.m.

Libertyville is making its second trip to Redbird Arena in three years. Senior middle hitter Alex Basler was a starter on the Wildcats’ 2012 fourth-place finisher and setter Liz Apgar and outside hitter Francesca Fusco were on the bench.

“I think we learned the first time what we need to do to prepare,” Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. “It’s not all about X’s and O’s. The girls are playing with ferocity right now. We’re as healthy as we’ve been all year and we have a lot of girls who are contributing.”

Loyola has never advanced beyond the sectional before and had to rally down a set to get past De La Salle in the supersectional. The junior-dominated Ramblers are led by 6-2 outside Christina Reed, 5-11 Olivia Van Zelst, 5-9 setter Katie Randolph and 6-foot middle Kate Pillion.

“Our girls really showed some guts, determination and heart against De La Salle,” coach Mark Chang said. “At this stage in the tournament, it’s less about mechanics and much more about allowing your desire to take over and trusting yourself and your teammates.”

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