Great defense on both sides extended a number of rallies during Thursday night's Class 4A girls volleyball sectional final at Neuqua Valley. Unfortunately for Lemont, defending state champion Benet won the majority of these key points.
When all was said and done, the Indians (26-13) came up short 25-14, 25-15, and the Redwings advanced to Saturday's supersectional in Normal needing just one more win to return to the state tournament.
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"My girls played incredible defense. That was the best defense I've ever seen them play," said Lemont coach Chris Zogata. "We wanted to make them earn every point they scored. But it's very hard with their size and our size to match up."
The Redwings were showing off their size and their big hits, but just as importantly Benet (37-2) wasn't too shabby on defense itself. Add in some great serving, strong hitting and that size advantage, and Benet was just too tough to beat.
"They were picking everything up so we had to hit it harder and hit it in different places," said Redwings outside hitter Cara Mattaliano, who delivered key kills down the stretch but also added 10 digs of her own. "We just wanted it really bad. We knew we had to keep pounding the ball."
Game 1 was tied at 5-5 when Benet's Nicki Barnes fired off 5 straight service points with an ace mixed in along with kills from Brittany Pavich and Hannah Kaminsky. The Indians never got within 5 points the rest of the way in the opener, which ended with Mattaliano soaring high to deliver a kill.
The second game was tied at 10 when Mattaliano and Kaminsky pretty much took over the match. Kaminsky, who finished with 25 assists, set up Pavich for a kill and an 11-10 lead, and that point jump-started a 10-2 run that put the Redwings in control. Mattaliano had kills on three straight points during the run and recorded 6 of her 9 kills in the second game.
Kaminsky not only ran the offense well but she added 8 digs to a defense that frustrated the Indians repeatedly.
"We were just talking about how they were going to dig us and that's fine," Kaminsky said of Lemont's defense. "We'll keep slamming the ball and eventually it will hit the floor. But our motto on defense is that nothing hits the floor. It won't hit the floor unless we put up a fight."
Benet coach Brad Baker, who captured his fourth sectional crown in six seasons with the program, was impressed by both teams' defensive efforts.
"They're in the sectional finals for a reason," he said of Lemont. "They play great defense, not just good defense. We don't expect anyone to give it to us."
Baker also knows his squad won't give anything to the opposition.
"You win by scoring points, but we understand that if you stop people you get more opportunities," he said.
The Redwings now have an opportunity to play at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Normal West supersectional against Edwardsville.