In so many ways, there couldn't be a more fitting team for St. Charles East to play in the Class 4A state semifinals Friday night than Benet.
It's Benet who the Saints opened the year with. It's Benet who handed the Saints half of their six losses this season. It's Benet who is 37-3 and regarded as the measuring stick for the state's best teams.
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And just so that all doesn't seem too overwhelming, it's also Benet that St. Charles East defeated in the 2008 state championship game.
It's obviously a program that the Saints players know well.
"I think it's more a mental game for us," senior outside Meghan Niski said. "They give their best and we are little shaky. We are definitely going to have to give our best game and no regrets at this point. This will be the last time we see them, no more second chances. Obviously it's a big rivalry."
What makes Benet so good? It starts with talent. The Redwings have four players already committed to Division I schools -- Jenna Jendryk (RS, Virginia Tech); Meghan Haggerty (MH, Wisconsin); Gabby Pethokoukis (MH, Villanova) and Nora Young (OH, Duquesne).
That doesn't count junior setter Hannah Kaminky and sophomore outside Maddie Haggerty, the later expected to have her choice of high major programs.
"They are a phenomenal team and we will have to play our best," Saints coach Jennie Kull said. "They have a diverse offense and they run it well."
Benet also has plenty of size. The Redwings have five players in their rotation 6-feet or taller.
St. Charles East wasn't able to take Benet to a third game in any of the three losses this year, the closest a 25-20 defeat. After losing the season opener, the Saints also lost to the Redwings in the championship game of the Mizuno Cup and the semifinals at the Autumnfest tourney.
It will be a different setting Friday night in the one match as opposed to playing Benet after a series of other matches in a tournament.
"We can't make it a bigger game than it is," Saints setter Erienne Barry said. "We have to have fun with it and play loose. They are a good team all the way around. They will give us a challenge. We'll be up for it."
Making her second trip to state, Niski said she's looking forward to soaking in all the additional festivities that make this week so special.
"The feeling of going back," Niski said. "Send off breakfast, going down on the bus, pasta dinner, staying in a hotel, it feels great. Sharing it with this team. (Senior) Maisey (Mulvey) and I are so happy we get to do it again."
One of the many parts Kull has enjoyed during this postseason run has been seeing so many players step up, whether it is Sarah Dugan or Caitlyn Ballard or Nicole Woods -- the later two a pair of just three juniors in the Saints regular rotation.
"I think we stated working hard, we've been working toward the postseason this whole season," Woods said. "We are really pushing and trying to do our best."
Another connection for this team besides playing together in club volleyball is that Woods, Maisey Mulvey, Niski and Barry all played for the same junior high team at St. Patrick's starting in fifth grade.
The Saints will be counting on senior middle Nichole Lambert to counter much of Benet's height. Headed to Radford College next year, Lambert could be the most improved player on either team Friday after playing her freshman year at St. Charles East on the freshman B team.
Now she hopes to end her climb all the way from that B team as a freshman to part of a state champion as a senior. The winner of the Benet-St. Charles East semifinal will play either Cary-Grove (24-4) or Marist (30-5) for the state title Saturday night.
"Leaps and bounds (I've improved), I can't even describe it," Lambert said. "It's something I wanted seeing Meghan Niski and Maisey Mulvey going out there with that fire made me want to experience it too.
"We put them (Benet) up on a pedestal and we need to have that confidence in ourselves. Hopefully this time will be different. We have absolutely nothing to lose. We made it there, we will leave it all on the court."