At Benet, sectional championships have almost been taken for granted in recent years.
The Redwings have won three straight sectionals, mere speed bumps to two state titles and a 2013 runner-up. Benet has won five sectionals over the last six years.
Thanks to the whims of IHSA geography, an assumed two wins is anything but this week.
Top seed Benet (36-1), which plays fourth-seeded Geneva (30-7) in Tuesday’s first Class 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinal, will need to be at its best to clear this playoff hurdle. And Redwings coach Brad Baker knows it.
“You can make the case that it is one of the best sectionals ever,” Baker said. “The 2007 one was really good when all the teams were nationally ranked. This one everybody has over 30 wins, multiple conference championships — everybody has their work cut out for them.”
All four top sectional top seeds made it out of regionals. Three of those four — Geneva, Glenbard West and St. Charles East — were moved into Benet’s sectional to much debate in volleyball circles. Adding fuel to the controversy, No. 1-ranked Mother McAuley is likely awaiting the Bartlett Sectional winner.
Geneva, which won the school’s first sectional title last year, picked up right where it left off this fall. The Vikings started the season 16-2, shared the Upstate Eight Valley title and weathered a three-game regional opener scare against Metea Valley.
The Vikings are young — led by sophomore outside hitters Grace Loberg (committed to Wisconsin) and Allyson Barrett and sophomore setter Mikayla Lanasa — but also boast experience on the back line with Maryland-bound senior libero Kelsey Wicinski.
And they are big: Loberg and Barrett both being over 6 feet.
“They have size everywhere and some experience,” Baker said. “They seem to set everybody. We need to slow (Loberg) down but not let other people kill us.”
Benet and Geneva have not played each other this year, but they are not completely unfamiliar. Both watched each other play at the Mizuno Cup won by the Redwings.
“We’re excited to play the No. 1 seed in our sectional,” Geneva coach Annie Seitelman said. “That’s the beauty of the playoffs, is on any given night any team can win or lose.”
Glenbard West’s resurrected volleyball program won its third straight regional last week. The Hilltoppers (30-7) are led by Duke-bound outside Natalie Schilling. St. Charles East (29-8), led by seniors Megan Schildmeyer and Mikaela Mosquera, beat Glenbard West in the Autumnfest third-place match three weeks ago.
The Saints are the only team at Bartlett to play Benet this year — the Redwings winning three matches against them, the last in three games.
Led by Northwestern-bound middle Rachael Fara, Dana Griffin and sophomore setter Sara Nielsen, Benet has rebounded well since its only loss to Mother McAuley in the Autumnfest final. The Redwings rolled through two regional matches.
“I feel like we are continually getting better,” Baker said. “We’re trying to be more disciplined on defense, making better reads, and offensively staying diverse. I thought we did a great job of that in the regional final and we need to continue that.”