Marist already had the edge over Lincoln-Way East going into Thursday’s Class 4A regional final by (1) being the host and (2) having beaten East in two sets when they played at the Rich East Invitational.
After Griffins libero Macie Lawrence rolled her right ankle and had to be carried off at the end of warmups, the RedHawks did pretty well at playing shark.
In attack mode the whole way, Marist jumped in front early in Set 1 and basically never let off the accelerator, winning 25-18, 25-14 to advance to Tuesday’s Sandburg Sectional and a semifinal meeting with the host Eagles.
Colleen Reilly (9 kills) and Ann Marie Stifter (5 kills, 6 blocks) led the hit parade behind table-setter Mollly Mayo (23 assists). Carolyn Yerkes (14 digs) keyed the defense, as the RedHawks improved to 27-9.
Lincoln-Way East (22-15) was paced by Josie Wierzal (6 kills), Maddie Nirchi (7 digs) and Taylor Nirch (12 assists).
Lawrence was hurt literally seconds before the warmup period ended. Maddie Nirchi hurriedly put on the libero shirt as a substitute starter for East and did a credible job, but Marist found plenty of places she wasn’t. Of the RedHawks’ 25 points in Set 1, 15 of them came via kills.
“We knew their libero was out, but our game plan didn’t change at all,” Stifter said. “We knew we had to keep attacking. They’re a very good team. We had to keep going at them.”
Megan Ryan landed the first kill in a 5-1 start. East got as close as 8-6 as Wierzal got on a mini-hitting streak, but Mayo spread the ball around to five different RedHawks as they maintained a comfortable edge throughout.
As impressive as the hitting was, so was Marist’s defense, which held Griffins powerhouse Jessica Lindsey without a kill in the first set.
“Jessica is a very strong hitter. She’s a very strong player,” Yerkes said. “She plays club with me on the same team. Our focus was on shutting her down. But our main goal was staying positive and doing well.”
Lindsey’s first kill, a cross-court effort that ran along the net before falling on the other side, drew East to within 6-5 in Set 2. A combo block by Becca Lilley and Wierzal, created a 6-6 tie. Marist responded, however, with back-to-back kills by Reilly, and eventually ran away.
By the time Lindsey got her second and third kills, the RedHawks had already doubled the score on East 20-10.
“It was definitely frustrating,” said Lindsey, who had at least a half-dozen spikes brought up by diving RedHawks. “They were ready for me and it was tough getting good, solid hits over the net.
“But this was a great season, a great team. I love this team, and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”