NORMAL -- To St. Francis, Saturday wasn't merely about collecting a medal and finishing a season with a win.
Sure, the Spartans wanted those tangible rewards.
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Even more, though, it was a time to reflect on the journey.
This group's journey ended the way so many Spartans before them, with a win -- this one, a 25-20, 25-11 victory over Marian Catholic in the Class 3A third-place game at Redbird Arena.
In a St. Francis season with its share of unknowns coming in, the girls learned much about each other in a short time.
"When we first started out in September we didn't really know what to expect," Spartans senior Grace Churney said. "We had a freshman on our team, we had a bunch of girls we really didn't know. But I think we've done a great job of coming together and growing. Our team now, and our team in September -- the growth is crazy. We really have formed a strong bond."
St. Francis' win is the school's 15th trophy in 16 appearances at the state volleyball tournament and raised the Spartans' all-time record at state to 35-9. Only once before -- in 1995 -- had St. Francis lost two matches in a row there, and these Spartans weren't about to be the second.
"I know being a senior, the six seniors on this team we didn't want to leave our last match with a loss," senior Daiva Wise said. "We came down here to win it all, and yesterday we got it taken away from us and we didn't play our best. Today I think we came out and played the way we know we can."
The Spartans (35-7) no doubt had the assurance of knowing they beat the same Marian Catholic team 25-14, 25-16 at the Rich East Invitational, and they carried that air of confidence to the court.
St. Francis never trailed, and at 11-11 in the first set it snapped off a 5-0 run that separated the two teams for good. A Churney kill started and ended the key stretch. In between Haley Gable strung together three kills in a row, pounding one undiggable spike Marian Catholic's way and putting the third off a tip.
Gable, another of the six seniors, said the Spartans got over Friday's loss like they put behind any other loss or win during the season -- together.
"We're all best friends, so we did a lot of team bonding like we usually do," Gable said. "We all piled into a room and we talked about things throughout the season, about the good times we've had."
St. Francis' supremacy was never threatened in the second set. The Spartans scored the first 3 points, a Wise kill the third, and an ace by McKenna Kelsay pushed the advantage to 6-1. Wise feathered in a tip kill and Carly Warner drove a spike down the middle of the Marian Catholic defense. Wise then went back to the service line and dealt a pair of aces to make it 10-3.
Marian Catholic (24-18), making its second appearance at state and first since 2002, got within 13-9, but Warner whistled a kill past two defenders to spark a 12-2 match-ending run.
"The energy on the team today and the energy on the team yesterday was completely different," Churney said. "Today we had so much fun out there. I had so much fun. We were smiling, we were cheering, we were focused and we had a goal in mind."
Gable finished with 7 kills, Churney 5 kills, Warner 5 kills and 16 assists and Wise 5 kills for St. Francis.
Kopec said that well-rounded attack was much more indicative of the type of team the Spartans have been than Friday's loss.
"You just had what you really wanted taken away from you, and it shows a lot of character to come back like we did," Kopec said. "That's what is supposed to be important in life. I know that sounds sappy but I don't care because I believe it. I'm just happy for these girls that they got to go out like the winners they are."