The winningest coach in Illinois girls volleyball reached another milestone on Saturday when her Spartans defeated Pius XI 25-23, 25-22 in the championship match of the Early Bird Invite.
But Peg Kopec's 1,100th win of her 38-year coaching career was hardly on her mind.
Less than two weeks ago, the legendary coach and her players were at a funeral for the tragic death of former Spartans standout Megan Boken.
"It's been a rough time at St. Francis for everyone," Kopec said. "Plus it's the beginning of the school year, which is tough on its own."
Kopec's 38-year career record is now 1,100-238-2.
"With everything that has been going on, it's nice (1,100 wins for the program) but not important. We've got to move on. It's nice for the girls (to win the title) because they showed a lot of heart coming back and winning a tournament. It was good for them."
The Spartans won the 16-team Early Bird by going 5-0, including a 25-21, 25-18 victory over Lake Zurich in the semifinals.
In the championship match, Spartans senior setter McKenna Kelsay used all her weapons with junior Maddie Haggerty (10 kills), freshman Molly Haggerty (9), sophomore Mary Boken (5), senior Michelle McLaughlin (5) and junior Becca Shearer (3) leading the way .
Kelsay's sister Kristen was on the team when Kopec won her 1,000th match.
"She's a mom and a coach to us, and a phenomenal coach," said McKenna, who handed out 24 assists with 13 digs against Pius (9-3), also a parochial school from Milwaukee.
"With my sister playing for the 1,000th win, it's cool for me to be part of the 1,100th."
And McKenna is part of another promising Spartan team, this one ranked No. 1 in the Daily Herald poll.
"It's great to see we are ranked but that doesn't mean anything," Kelsay said. "The biggest challenge is not letting it get to our heads. There's so many great teams out there. We just have to keep getting better every day."
St. Francis was great in keeping its composure against Pius, which kept the pressure on start to finish.
Pius standout senior Gabrielle Iyamah (10 kills) put down a kill to tie Set 1 at 21, then she got a block to even it at 23.
But St. Francis put the set away on a kill from McLaughlin and a hitting error by Pius.
The Spartans trailed 15-11 in Set 2 and were down 18-15 before getting 4 straight points, capped by Shearer's kill for a 19-18 advantage.
The set was tied at 21 but St. Francis surged ahead with 3 straight kills by Maddie Haggerty (11 digs). Pius got to within 24-22 before a service error ended the match.
Spartans junior Sam Dubiel collected a team-high 18 digs.
"It was a great weekend," Kelsay added. "We were tested and we saw our weaknesses. Now we have to work on them. It was exciting to play."
The Spartans had a hitting efficiency of better than .500 in its first four matches of the Early Bird but made 11 errors against Pius (.273 hitting percentage).
"We learned a lot about ourselves," Kopec said. "The good thing is we were tested. That's how you want to start out. You want your weak areas to shine through, and they did. Now we have a lot to practice."