Can anybody stop Joliet Catholic, Freeburg or Lanark?

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Lyons. Joliet Catholic. Freeburg. Lanark Eastland.

That’s the way it should break down this weekend in Normal. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will.

Lyons coach Joann Pyritz said Class 4A is too close to call.

“It will be very close,” said Pyritz, who has taken four boys team to the state tournament (although the atmosphere at Hoffman Estates High School can hardly be compared to Redbird Arena) since last leading a girls team to state 20 years ago.

“It’s obviously going to be a pressure-packed situation,” she said. “We just want to make sure the team stays composed.”

Lyons certainly has the talent to win the title, starting with 6-foot-2 junior Jocelyn Birks (340 kills), 6-0 sophomore setter Alexis Viliunas and 5-9 senior Maureen Stroka. But the rest of the field is equally gifted.

Quincy defeated very good Moline, Normal and Benet teams to earn its first state berth since 1999, and setter Hannah Kvitle and junior outside Brittany Houghton drew praise from Benet coach Brad Baker after the Blue Devils dispatched the Redwings in the supersectional.

Cary-Grove and Glenbrook South are no slouches, either. Cary-Grove defeated defending Class 4A champion St. Charles East not once but twice, and took down Mother McAuley at the Asics Challenge. Glenbrook South has 6-4 Ellen Chapman and Columbia-bound setter Colleen Brennan.

In the other classes, Joliet Catholic, Freeburg and Lanark Eastland have two big advantages over their rivals – talent and experience. All three are seeking their second consecutive state title.

Only time will tell whether Joliet Catholic won the state title last week in Wheaton or if there is a suitable challenger among Breese Mater Dei, Sycamore and Crystal Lake Central. A lot has been made of Mater Dei, but it lost twice to the same Althoff team Joliet Catholic embarrassed at the Mizuno Cup.

Crystal Lake Central has a budding superstar in 6-1 sophomore Amelia Anderson, but the Tigers also needed three sets to defeat the same Nazareth team that lost to Joliet Catholic 25-20, 25-7 in East Suburban Catholic Conference play.

Chicago Christian coach James Garcia would like spoil the Freeburg celebration plan. The field may be tempted to overlook the Knights because of their 27-10 record, but playing St. Francis, Marist and Lockport should better prepare Chicago Christian than the last time it was in Normal.

“We need to focus on our game plan,” Garcia said. “Sometimes the outside pressures and expectations get to some of the girls. It’s our job as coaches to remind them to keep doing what they’ve done all season.”

And the season is getting shorter every minute.

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