by Joshua Welge
Class 4A Neuqua Valley sectional
The matchups: Sectional semifinals, Tuesday, Benet vs. West Aurora, 6 p.m. and Plainfield North vs. Lemont, 7 p.m. Sectional final, 7 p.m., Thursday.
Advancement: Winner plays the winner of the Normal West sectional at the Normal Community supersectional, 1 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: The No. 1 player in the country takes aim at the No. 1 team in the state. Defending state champion Benet (35-2) will get perhaps its toughest test on the road back to Redbird Arena in West Aurora (32-5) and Wisconsin-bound senior Lauren Carlini. Benet defeated West Aurora 28-26, 25-23 at the Benet Invite back in August and also beat the Blackhawks in a regional final last year. History is on the Redwings' side. Benet has been to a sectional final each of the last five years, winning three sectional titles. This is West Aurora's first sectional appearance since 1998. Cara Mattaliano had 11 kills and Brittany Pavich 6 in the Redwings' regional final win over Naperville Central. Senior setter Hannah Kaminsky orchestrates a fast, multi-faceted attack. Carlini, an exquisite setter with a powerful jump serve who also hits, is capable of carrying West Aurora. But the Blackhawks aren't a one-girl show. Peyton McKenzie is a very good right-side who also brings a big jump serve, and Nerissa Vogt and Abriya Zeitz are strong middles. If Benet has an advantage, it's in the back row with senior libero Sheila Doyle and Co. Benet won a ton of long rallies in the teams' first meeting, wearing down West Aurora into unforced errors. The Redwings also did well in siding out on Carlini's serve, which most teams don't do at a high rate. "We want to get teams into as long a rally as possible," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "It's always one of our goals to win the transition game and then we hope our ball control is better."
Class 4A Larkin sectional
The matchup: Sectional semifinals, Tuesday, Glenbard West vs. St. Charles North, 6 p.m. and Geneva vs. St. Charles East, 7 p.m. Sectional final, 7 p.m., Thursday.
Advancement: Winner plays the winner of the Niles North sectional at the Niles West supersectional, 1 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: No. 1 seed Glenbard West (35-2) won its first regional since 1985 last week. The next step is just as significant. The Hilltoppers want to be considered among the area's elite programs, and a couple wins this week would go a long way toward that mission. The last time these two teams met, the Hilltoppers lost a heartbreaking three-set regional final last year. St. Charles North (24-13) won its second straight regional last week behind a combined 19 kills from sisters Taylor and Daley Krage. Alex Busch is an outstanding libero, and coach Lindsey Hawkins has been back two matches now from maternity leave. Amanda Perry had 8 kills, Megan Wagner 6 and Caleigh Ryan 20 assists in Glenbard West's regional win over West Chicago. Hilltoppers coach Pete Mastandrea said Ryan and the offense "was as fast as it's been." Glenbard West libero Meg DeMaar was dynamite with 28 digs in last year's regional meeting. To Mastandrea this match isn't about revenge or redemption. It means more. "We want to get to that next step and prove that we belong among the top programs," Mastandrea said. "It's always been so far out of reach that's been a pipe dream. Last year we were right there. I still think we have another level." St. Charles East (25-12) has come on strong since an 0-5 start to its season. Western Michigan-bound setter Erienne Barry and outside Nicole Woods are veterans who started on last year's state semifinalist. Libero Kelly Dalheim, who had 25 digs against Batavia last week, makes Geneva (29-7) go. Hannah Buck is the Vikings' best hitter. Geneva beat St. Charles East 25-27, 29-27, 25-20 earlier in the year, boosting the Vikings to the Upstate Eight River title.
Class 4A Riverside-Brookfield sectional Matchups: Sectional semifinals, Tuesday, Hinsdale South vs. Oak Lawn, 6 p.m. and St. Ignatius vs. Hinsdale Central, 7 p.m. Sectional final, 7 p.m., Thursday.
Advancement: Winner plays the winner of the Lincoln-Way Central sectional at the Mother McAuley supersectional, 5 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: Story of its season, top seed Hinsdale South's 25-27, 25-10, 25-23 win over Riverside-Brookfield in last week's regional final was a roller-coaster ride. The Hornets (30-7) nearly blew a 22-16 third-set lead but pulled it out behind Jessica Brezwyn's 19 kills and 17 from Colleen Lyons. "I don't think anybody could have beaten us in Game 2," Hornets coach Lisa Martinez said, "but give credit to R-B. They played their little hearts out. I hope it was a wakeup call." Martinez did appreciate how well her team passed in the teeth of a tough match. Oak Lawn (25-7), 9-22 last year, is playing in its first sectional since 2004. Simona Tomczak, with 214 kills, and 5-foot-9 outside Becky Bradshaw, who has 198, is Oak Lawn's top hitters. "They're a scrappy South Side team," said Martinez, whose team seeks its second sectional title in three years. "We haven't stressed what Oak Lawn is all about. It's more about what we do. We'll worry about the rest as it comes." Hinsdale Central and Virginia-bound setter Meghan McDowell did well in upsetting Whitney Young in regionals but will have its hands full with St. Ignatius. St. Ignatius (28-9), which beat Hinsdale Central two weeks ago, features an outstanding setter in Sophia Dodd along with outside Camille Evans and middle Casey Harris.
Class 3A Glenbard South sectional
Matchups: Sectional semifinals, Tuesday, St. Francis vs. Herscher, 6 p.m. and Joliet Catholic vs. Nazareth, 7 p.m. Sectional final, 7 p.m., Thursday.
Advancement: Winner plays the winner of the Rich East sectional at the Chicago Christian supersectional, 6 p.m., Saturday.
Outlook: Can we skip the appetizer and get right to the main course? St. Francis (32-5) and Joliet Catholic (31-6), like clockwork, have met in the playoffs the last six years. Each school has won three matches. It would be a shock if they don't hook up a seventh time Thursday. Maddie Haggerty and St. Francis are as healthy as they've been all year. Haggerty was slowed by a foot injury when the Spartans lost a three-setter to Joliet Catholic at the Asics Challenge. JCA star outside Morgan Reardon had 25 kills in that match, dominated by the Angels in the first and third sets. JCA knows Nazareth (23-13) well from the East Suburban Catholic Conference, but St. Francis is very unfamiliar with Herscher. Herscher, out of the Interstate Eight, advanced to a Class 2A sectional final last year but got bumped up to 3A. Senior outside Loryn Bruer leads the Tigers. "I'm sure they are a fine team," St. Francis coach Peg Kopec said of Herscher. "We'll see how it goes. We were able to play everyone last week, which was kind of fun."
-- Joshua Welge