Familiar sight delivers semifinal for St. Francis
NORMAL -- A Haggerty setting up a younger Haggerty sister at the state volleyball tournament.
Haven't we seen this movie before?
Maddie Haggerty's pass to McKenna Kelsay set up freshman Molly Haggerty's kill for match point, and St. Francis rode that sister act to a come-from-behind 21-25, 25-20, 26-24 win over Champaign Centennial in Friday's Class 3A semifinal at Redbird Arena.
A year ago it was Maddie's big third game on a service point run by older sister Meghan, now a freshman at Nebraska, that delivered Benet its first state title.
Now it's St. Francis that will play for its ninth championship Saturday night against Richmond-Burton.
Different year, different school, different sister, different feeling.
"It's different because Meghan was my older sister. Molly, she's like my twin," Maddie Haggerty said. "It's great that we'll be able to reminisce about this experience."
The collective hot hands of the Haggertys maintained the Spartans (36-5) in a tense, nip-and-tuck Game 3.
St. Francis lost leads of 17-14 and 19-18, Champaign Centennial (36-5) creeping ahead 21-19 on the 11th kill by Bradley-bound middle Rachel Jones. A Chargers hit sailed long on the next rally, and Molly Haggerty's big kill tied it 21-21.
The margin never was wider than 1 the rest of the way. Maddie Haggerty finished with 13 kills, Molly Haggerty 11, and between the two they had St. Francis' last 6 kills.
"When I set Molly the ball I know it's either going to go down or she's going to hit a good ball," said Kelsay, who had 37 assists. "I have all the confidence in the world in her. She's so composed for a freshman."
Just like in a three-game sectional final win over Joliet Catholic, where Molly Haggerty exploded for 18 kills, Kelsay knew when to feed her precocious freshman.
Six of Molly Haggerty's kills came in the final game. At the end Champaign Centennial was caught in a rotation with its setter trying to block the heavy-armed 6-footer. It was no contest.
"I started the match slow, but at the end I just didn't think about it," Haggerty said, shrugging it off. "I just kept swinging."
Champaign Centennial was denied a shot at its first state title in the school's first trip to Redbird Arena. But Chargers coach Stan Bergman could appreciate the mano-a-mano way the match ended.
"I knew it would come down to who could get the last swing in," Bergman said. "It wasn't going to end on a mistake. Unfortunately for us, they got the last swing in."
In a sense St. Francis turned the tables on a September meeting between the two teams.
In that match, at the Effingham Tournament, the Spartans won the first game but lost in three. Peg Kopec's young Spartans, who play just three seniors, have won 13 straight matches since a three-game loss to Joliet Catholic at the Asics Challenge, including an emotional three-gamer over JCA.
"I think they've grown up," Kopec said. "They showed a great deal of perseverance today. They didn't give up and they put on their big-girl pants at the end."
St. Francis jumped out to leads of 7-2 and 15-9 in Game 1, but Champaign Centennial grabbed control of things with a 7-1 run. A slide by Rutgers-bound middle Lauren Cloyd, one of her 8, tied it at 18-18.
St. Francis spotted Champaign Centennial a 5-1 lead in Game 2 but answered with an 8-1 run capped by a Mary Boken ace.
Boken had 3 kills and 3 aces for the match.
"We were a little frantic there at the beginning, but we kept each other together," Boken said. "We're like a family. At the end we got the job done."
Boken's older sister Megan played for St. Francis' last state champs, in 2006, and also for the 2004 title team. Megan was murdered a week before this season started.
"These girls have dealt with adversity this year on so many different levels," Kopec said. "To come together the way they have, I can't tell you how proud I am of them."
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