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updated: 11/10/2011 8:16 PM

Memories of 2008 upset still driving Benet

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Jenna Jendryk's memories of three years ago have not faded.

They greet her face-to-face every day in practice.

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Every time the Benet senior walks into the gym she sees the enormous team photo of the 2008 volleyball state runners-up and her older sister Jessica hanging from the wall.

She is reminded of the fine line between champion and second place, the hurt of coming oh so close.

"We are playing for that team," Jendryk said. "Everybody you see in that poster, they worked so hard and came up short. Now we have a chance to be the team that gets it done."

Benet versus St. Charles East. Tonight's volleyball state semifinal is so deliciously fitting.

It was three years ago that St. Charles East stunned every person in Redbird Arena not wearing orange and dashed Benet's dreams of a first state championship. Everyone in Normal all but anointed Benet state champion after the Redwings beat Mother McAuley in the semis.

It is the type of loss that doesn't just go away. It lingers.

"We were up pretty late that night, my assistant and I and our wives," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "I've definitely watched the tape of that match more than once. We still have a bad taste in our mouth."

Jendryk, a freshman watching her sister, was in as much disbelief as anyone else in the Redbird stands that night.

She wasn't the only current Benet player to witness the agony of defeat. Hannah Kaminsky and Cara Mattaliano both had older sisters on the 2008 team, both saw their sisters cry over the loss in their hotel room afterward.

"It was hard to see them go down like that," Jendryk said. "They were all crying. Everybody was in shock. We didn't know how to react."

Baker purposely put St. Charles East on his team's schedule after that 2008 match; ever since it seems the two teams can't stop running into each other.

St. Charles East beat Benet in last year's season opener, contributing to Benet's rocky 4-3 start. Since then the Redwings have beaten the Saints five straight times, including three dominating straight-set victories this season.

But this is the one that counts. Tonight's match is the one that can go toward rinsing out the bitterness of 2008.

As much as Jendryk badly wants a win tonight and Saturday for herself, she also craves redemption for big sister.

"We don't talk about it that much," she said, "but we know. She really wants us to beat them. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to them."

A family affair:

Peg Kopec of St. Francis and Fred Rakers of Breese Mater Dei are the two winningest coaches in Illinois volleyball history.

But the connection doesn't end there.

Kopec's daughter Erin played collegiately for Rakers' daughter Jennifer Calloway at South Carolina Upstate from 2000-2004, breaking single-season assist records there. Erin Kopec then assisted Fred Rakers at Mater Dei for two years before coming back to St. Francis.

"He was very good to Erin, a very nice man," Peg Kopec said.

Spare the reunion for another day, though. For all the polite talk of Mater Dei and Rakers, Kopec has one over-riding thought about today's match.

"I want to beat them," she said.

jwelge@dailyherald.com

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