St. Francis was not at its best on Tuesday night yet stayed alive in Class 3A sectional girls volleyball play. The Spartans, however, may want to be at their best in Thursday's final.
St. Francis swept Herscher 25-18, 25-16 in the semifinals of the Glenbard South sectional but never really looked as sharp as coach Peg Kopec would like to have seen.
"We were not very smooth and we didn't play to our potential," she said after St. Francis (33-5) had to rally from an 8-3 hole in the opener. "We did some nice things out there, but we just weren't listening to each other well and our defense was hesitant at times."
Despite all their "problems" the Spartans once again find themselves in a sectional championship and once again look to square off against rival Joliet Catholic Academy, which beat Nazareth Academy in Tuesday's second semifinal.
"In the second game we stepped it up, but we definitely have a lot to work on in practice tomorrow," said Spartans freshman hitter Molly Haggerty, who shared match-high kill honors at 9 with her older sister Maddie. "I wasn't here last year, but everyone has told me how exciting playing Joliet Catholic was, and we want to repeat as sectional champs."
First St. Francis had to escape a tough challenge from a Tigers squad that entered play with a 24-10 record and fresh off a Reed-Custer regional title. Senior outside hitter Loryn Bruer paced Herscher with 7 kills and 10 digs as the underdogs jumped ahead 5-1 in Game 1, led 8-3 and trailed just 20-18 late following a St. Francis service error.
"We had a real strong opening which was great to see," Tigers coach Alex Rodriguez said of his squad. "We knew they were good, but we knew we could be good too. They left everything out there and I couldn't be more proud of their performance."
Even with a sluggish start, the Spartans just had too much firepower. Setter McKenna Kelsay got everyone involved and the Spartans' trio of 6-footers -- Mary Boken and the Haggerty sisters -- were just too tough to contain.
After finishing Game 1 strong, St. Francis led just 10-8 in the second game following a Tigers point that came about after two Spartans collided while going for the ball. Kopec said it was "not a fun timeout", but her team responded with a 9-2 run for a commanding 19-l0 advantage. Boken and Molly Haggerty each had 3 kills during the streak.
"She was trying to get us fired up," said Boken, a 6-1 middle hitter. "The environment tonight threw us off a little bit, but now are excited to be coming back here on Thursday."
JCA defeated the Spartans in a three-setter early this season, and this will be the seventh consecutive year the teams have met in the playoffs.