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updated: 11/3/2011 11:16 PM

St. Francis clears a big hurdle

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Daiva Wise grabbed the sectional plaque and wasn't about to let go.

Amid a wild St. Francis celebration, she enveloped it with two protective arms.

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"I'm sleeping with it tonight," said the St. Francis senior.

And why not?

Three years of disappointment was wiped away Thursday, St. Francis reclaiming the upper hand in its seemingly annual playoff series with Joliet Catholic by virtue of a 25-23, 25-19 win in the Class 3A Joliet Catholic sectional final.

St. Francis (33-6), which advances to play Metamora in a 2 p.m. Saturday supersectional at Lincoln-Way West, won its 21st sectional, first since 2008. St. Francis beat Joliet Catholic in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs, but the Angels had ended the Spartans' season the last three years -- including a bitter 2009 sectional final loss on St. Francis' home floor.

"I've been waiting for this since my sophomore year when we lost to them in our home gym," Wise said. "I can't ask for anything better than this."

Joliet Catholic (32-7), winner of six straight sectionals coming in, was its worst enemy. The Angels committed 21 errors -- 15 of them hitting miscues, including a hit that went wide at match point. Joliet Catholic also committed three straight critical errors in the first set, turning a 21-19 lead into a 22-21 St. Francis advantage. Joliet Catholic never led again in the match.

"We made too many errors on our side of the court," Angels coach Christine Scheibe said. "Things just weren't bouncing our way."

St. Francis trailed 18-13 in the first set, but a Carly Warner kill started a 6-1 Spartans run that tied it at 19-19. Two Kelly Feigh kills got the Angels back the lead at 21-19 before the rash of errors. Spartans libero Maddie Defino pushed a shot just over the tip of the Angels block to make it 24-23, and Haley Gable's kill was returned out of bounds for set point.

"All week we've been practicing being down," Warner said. "We knew no matter how far down we were we had to keep playing strong."

St. Francis carried the momentum into the second set, a Gable kill pushing the Spartans ahead 10-3. Joliet Catholic answered with a 6-0 run punctuated by two Morgan Reardon aces, and the Angels tied it at 12-12 on one of Feigh's 12 kills.

Grace Churney and Gable kills sandwiched around two Joliet Catholic hitting errors got St. Francis back ahead 16-12, a lead the Spartans wouldn't relinquish. Gable had 8 kills, Wise 5, Churney 4 kills and 9 digs and Warner 5 kills, 11 assists and 7 digs.

St. Francis, it seemed, was able to get to more balls, playing with a hungry attitude.

"We played with no regrets," Warner said. "We didn't want one ball to drop without someone hitting the floor."

For a program that boasts eight state titles, this sectional win was sweet -- but St. Francis' sage coach reminded it isn't the ultimate destination.

"It's very exciting," Peg Kopec said. "but we've got another game. We act like we are at state. We are not at state."

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