Benet sets new state record with 4A championship win over Libertyville

SHARE Benet sets new state record with 4A championship win over Libertyville
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Libertyville found itself on the wrong side of history Saturday.

Benet, which avenged last year’s state title match loss to Mother McAuley at last weekend’s Hinsdale Central supersectional, won its third state title in the last four years, defeating Libertyville, 25-10, 25-10, in the IHSA Class 4A state championship at Redbird Arena.

“I think this really proves all the doubters wrong,” Benet middle hitter Rachael Fara said. “As a team, we came together and used that (last year’s loss) as fuel for this year. We knew no matter what, we’d have a hard road downstate.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in our sectional, who’s in our supersectional or anything like that. To be able to come back and win it is unbelievable. It’s a great honor and blessing for our team.”

In the process, the Redwings (41-1) set a new state record for the fewest points allowed in a state title match in the rally scoring era, breaking the record of 22 set by Breese Mater Dei against Marian Central in the 2011 Class 3A final.

“Defense is definitely a team effort,” said Benet libero Natalie Canulli, who had 16 digs. “Our coaching staff works so hard to scout for us, and our coach tells us that defense is worth two points, so it’s up to us to make the plays ultimately.”

Benet (41-1) grabbed an early 7-2 lead in Game 1 behind junior Tiffany Clark, who had three blocks including a stuff on Wildcats’ setter Liz Apgar that prompted a Wildcats’ timeout. Libertyville came out of the timeout with kills by Francesca Fusco (four kills) and Alex Basler to get within 9-7.

The Redwings answered with an 8-2 run behind kills from Dana Griffin (eight kills) and Marissa Tassone and three unforced errors to open a 17-9 lead. A kill by the Wildcats’ Annika Hawkinson’s tip temporarily stopped the bleeding, but Griffin’s kill down the line doubled up the score at 20-10.

Sophomore Veronica Snelling (eight kills) finally ended Game 1 at 25-10 with a crosscourt smash.

Game 2 started no better for Libertyville (35-7), which fell behind 7-1 on a pair of kills by Griffin and another well-placed pushed shot by Tassone. Kills by Clark and Snelling extended Benet’s lead to 12-3, and Clark added two more putaways to make it 14-3. The Wildcats never threatened after that.

“We pretty much had the preparation, and I think we were ready for it, it’s just a matter of stopping them and that’s a difficult task,” Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. “It’s a difficult task. Only one team did it all year.

“I’m really proud of what we did. I think the girls earned their place down here and to be in that match. It was unfortunate to play that way when it really matters. But that doesn’t take away from what we did this year.”

Sara Nielsen distributed 23 assists for Benet, which hit a staggering .362 for the match.

“We hang our hat playing defense,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “We held our opponents to negative hitting percentages in three out of the four games this weekend. Then when you hit 370 and you hold teams to negative, you get 25-10.”

In the third-place match, Normal defeated Loyola 25-15, 25-16, Machala Leonard had eight kills for the Ironmen (36-5), who closed Game 1 on a 9-2 run and built a 22-11 lead in Game 2. Loyola (27-11) got six kills from Christina Reed.

“Getting down here means the world to us,” Loyola coach Mark Chang said. “Many would not have expected a team full of juniors to make it this far. We had a simple goal this season – win sectionals. Once we did that, we set new goals.”

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