An unexpected, unfamiliar opponent didn't affect Benet a bit Saturday.
Winning tournaments have become all too familiar.
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Top-seeded Benet repeated as champion of the Mizuno Cup at Aurora's Great Lakes Center, handling Lincoln-Way Central 25-5, 25-19 in the championship match.
No. 6 seed Lincoln-Way Central (20-6) upset No. 3 Hinsdale South and No. 2 Joliet Catholic to reach Saturday's final. Knocking off Benet, though, proved a different animal.
"We had never played a team before that we knew absolutely nothing about," Benet senior setter Hannah Kaminsky said. "We decided to not even watch them; we just said, 'Let's just play our game.' It worked to our advantage."
Benet (24-2) is 7-0 in tournaments the last two seasons and can sweep its four tournaments for the second straight year by winning Autumnfest next weekend. Kaminsky has never lost a tournament match in her four years.
"It's definitely a pride thing," Kaminsky said. "We didn't want to feel like we did a couple weeks ago when we lost two matches. We came in focused."
Kaminsky had 28 assists, Sheila Doyle 12 digs and Cara Mattaliano 11 kills for Benet, in peak form during the first set. The Redwings never trailed and hit at a sizzling .520 percentage. Already leading 8-4, Benet ended the set with an unheard-of 17-1 run. Mattaliano had 4 kills and an ace, Brittany Pavich 2 kills and 2 blocks and Nicki Barnes a kill and 2 blocks during that stretch, Barnes serving out the the last 8 points of the set.
"That first set, it was like magic," Kaminsky said. "Our defense was crazy good and everything was clicking."
Tied 14-14 in the second, Benet all but put the match away with a 4-0 run. Mattaliano put down a kill from the back row, Caroline Wolf served up an ace and Pavich had a block.
Benet's calling card, its no-ball-shall-land defense, had Lincoln-Way Central scrambling. Doyle is like a magnet for the ball.
"Great defenders don't just let the ball come to them," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "They read what the hitter's doing, read around the block and attack the ball. You don't allow the ball to just come to you. That's what great defenders do, and Sheila's a great one."
Benet weathered a stiff challenge from Naperville Central in the semifinals, beating the Redhawks for the second time this season 25-23, 25-23. The Redwings got out to a commanding 18-10 lead in the second set and held on, then rallied from down 20-17 in the second. At 23-23 Barnes delivered a kill off a block, and a Mattaliano back-row spike that seemed ticketed to go long instead was touched for match point.
"They played well against us," Doyle said. "I do think there's a little animosity between the two teams."
Redhawks coach Brie Isaacson, pensive after the missed opportunity, did focus on her team's progress from a 25-14, 25-22 loss to Benet at the Wheaton Classic. Round 3 between the two rivals could come in a regional final at Naperville Central. The Redhawks (20-6) survived a three-setter with Bloomington just to face Benet Saturday.
Joliet Catholic later beat Naperville Central 27-25, 25-16 in the third-place match.
"We are a better team today than we were then," Isaacson said, "but it's a battle and that's a good team. We're going to have to play the game the right way to win. We have to clean up some things at our end but I'm proud of the heart my kids showed."
No. 7 seed Naperville North (18-7) bounced back from a 25-18, 25-22 loss to Joliet Catholic in Saturday's first match, beating No. 3 Hinsdale South and then Edwardsville 25-13, 25-23 for fifth place.
Tournament host St. Charles East continued its resurgence after an 0-5 start to the season. The Saints (17-9) lost a three-set match to Naperville North in Friday pool play to drop into the Silver Bracket but won it by beating Hinsdale Central 25-18, 22-25, 25-11, Geneva 25-15, 21-25, 25-19 and Prairie Ridge 20-25, 25-15, 25-20.
The Saints are overcoming the loss of outside Caitlyn Ballard to a stress fracture, likely for the season.
"It was a very good weekend," Saints coach Jennie Kull said. "Emma (Johnson) has come in and played well, and defensively I'm calling on everybody to step up. Nicole (Woods) had a great weekend and Erienne (Barry) did a nice job running the offense. We've been off for a while; it was nice to come back and win the Silver."