By Phil Brozynski
Benet’s No. 3 national ranking by Prepvolleyball.com, it’s No. 1 rating in the Sun-Times poll and its unbeaten season all evaporated in the span of a few minutes Saturday at the Autumnfest Volleyball Tournament hosted by Glenbard East.
That’s how long it took for Joliet Catholic to run off 14 straight points and turn a 23-20 Game 2 deficit into a 9-0 Game 3 lead. Benet got within 20-18, but a service error and service receive error sealed the Redwings’ fate.
“When you’re in a hole, you have to go after them,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “You can’t play sideout. You can’t take your foot off the pedal.”
Benet can still contend for a state title, but it will be difficult for the Redwings to pull off a national title.
“To win 30 matches anytime is still a big accomplishment,” Baker said. “There’s so many quality teams out there. It’s been a long time since a big school went unbeaten.”
The last Illinois big school to go undefeated was Mother McAuley, which went 48-0 in 1982 under Mary Anne Malone. Crystal Lake Central went 42-0 last year, but the Tigers pulled off the feat in Class 3A.
Defending Class 4A state champion Naperville Central also had a difficult day at Autumnfest, but the Redhawks were shorthanded.
Naperville Central setter Kelsey Hoey caught an elbow to the face from teammate Emily McGee during Friday’s pool play. X-rays were negative, but Hoey’s right eye was swollen shut Saturday.
Hoey joined outside hitter Meghan Bray on the bench for Central Saturday as the Redhawks lost to McAuley in the semifinals and Benet in the third-place match. Both should be back by the state tournament.
“We’re at a little disadvantage right now,” Naperville Central coach Brie Isaacson said. “But I expect certain things from the kids out there no matter who is playing. You hope to learn from your mistakes and get better. You learn from the bad and you learn from the good.
“It’s been a crazy week,” said Isaacson, who is also expecting her fourth child at any time. “But to be in the top four here down two kids…it’s OK.”
One team expected to finish in the top four at Autumnfest was St. Charles East. But the Saints had to settle for seventh after squandering a 7-1 lead in Game 2 of a 25-13, 25-21 quarterfinal loss to Joliet Catholic.
“Emotionally, we weren’t into it (Saturday),” St. Charles East coach Jennie Kull said. “Our young kids played well, but our leaders didn’t. It’s been a tough two weeks. We just have to regroup and go after it.”
St. Charles East finished second at its own tournament on October 11, defeated Downers Grove South on October 13, defeated Upstate Eight Conference rival Bartlett in an emotional match 24 hours later then ran out of steam Saturday.
The Saints’ top hitter, Caroline Niski, is also dealing with a sore shoulder.
“We lost to two good programs (Saturday),” Kull said. “It’s not an end all.”
Finally, at least this time the damage was minimal, but Joliet Catholic might want to consider wearing rubber suits at Autumnfest.
Joliet Catholic libero Stephanie Keca injured her ankle after stepping on a teammate’s foot while jumping up and down following the Angels’ win over Benet Saturday. Keca was unable to play in the championship match against McAuley.
Last year, Joliet Catholic lost one player to a knee injury at Autumnfest and Kelly Murphy injured an ankle at practice the following day. The injuries contributed to Joliet Catholic’s Class 3A supersectional loss.