Sheila Doyle is proof that more than size matters on the volleyball court.
Benet opponents will soon find that out.
Doyle, Benet's 5-foot-4 spitfire of a libero, epitomized her team's gritty defense as the No. 10 Redwings beat Lauren Carlini and No. 5 West Aurora 28-26, 25-23 to win the Benet Invite on Saturday in Lisle.
Benet lost six 6-footers off last year's Class 4A championship team but is finding in the early going this year it can beat teams with more than size.
"We said at the beginning of the season that we're going to have to be in the best shape of our lives," Benet coach Brad Baker said, "because we're going to have long rallies and we need to be fast in transition. We have multiple future Division I liberos playing on the floor at the same time. Those kids never give up on a ball."
The Redwings (6-0), who repeated as invite champs and haven't lost a tournament since 2010, kept several long rallies alive until West Aurora (4-1) made mistakes. Benet beat West Aurora in last year's regional final, but this was a good test against the Wisconsin-bound Carlini, arguably the best player in the state.
"Those long rallies are huge momentum swings and important for our team to win those points," said tournament MVP Doyle, who had 15 digs against West Aurora. "As long as we keep playing scrappy things will continue to go well for us."
Three straight aces by West Aurora's Peyton McKenzie and a Nerissa Vogt block gave the Blackhawks a 13-7 lead in the first set, but Benet came all the way back to tie 15-15 it on four consecutive West Aurora errors. A Brittany Pavich kill, one of her 7 for the Benet middle, followed by a Blackhawks net violation gave the Redwings a 20-19 lead that eventually got to 24-21.
West Aurora fought off four Benet set points, but a Blackhawks hitting error followed by a Cara Mattaliano ace clinched the set. The Blackhawks gave Benet 15 of its points in the first set on errors.
"I think we got tight," West Aurora coach Kari Nicholson said.
A Carlini kill started the second set, but Benet never trailed after a Carlini service error tied it 4-4. The lead ballooned as big as 13-6 and 14-7 on kills by Benet setter Hannah Kaminsky and Mattaliano. West Aurora got all the way back to 24-23 on Carlini's ninth kill, but on Carlini's ensuing serve Pavich put down match point.
Mattaliano had 6 kills and Kaminsky 18 assists for Benet, which earlier Saturday beat York 25-21, 25-10. The Redwings haven't dropped a set in six matches this season.
"We're defending champions in this tournament and we knew West Aurora was going to be a good match," Kaminsky said. "When the match was getting close, we said to each other, 'Come on, girls, let's prove who we are.'"
If outsiders' expectations of Benet are scaled back, Baker and Co. aren't giving an inch.
"We don't rebuild here," Baker said. "The goals are the same no matter who is on the floor."
Carlini also had 5 blocks, Mackenzie 5 kills and Vogt 4 blocks for West Aurora, which earlier beat Waubonsie 25-20, 25-18 in the semifinals. Nicholson wasn't too down about a close loss to Benet.
"Benet, they picked up just about everything we put up," Nicholson said. "I think we played very well together. It can only get better."
Waubonsie Valley (4-2), which went 2-1 in Friday pool play with a win over Neuqua Valley and loss to Benet, bounced back from its loss to West Aurora to beat York 25-23, 23-25, 25-19 for third place. Warriors Michigan State-bound junior Rachel Minarick had 21 kills against York, 50 for the tournament.
It was a good weekend for a green Warriors group that starts two freshmen.
"We're very young," Waubonsie coach Kristen Stuart said, "and there's a lot of experience there. There's a lot of room for improvement, so I'm very optimistic."