Tears of joy, sadness for St. Francis
NORMAL — A steady stream of tears from Peg Kopec and her St. Francis girls said it all.
St. Francis has made little mention this season outside its family of Megan Boken, the ex-Spartan murdered two weeks before its first match.
But she was always on the girls' minds and in their hearts. Quietly, her memory is always with them.
And on Saturday, wearing the same "lucky state" uniforms that Megan wore when St. Francis last won it all in 2006, sister Mary Boken and the Spartans beat Richmond-Burton 25-21, 25-20 in the Class 3A final at Redbird Arena for their ninth state championship.
"We've thought about Megan a lot this year," Kopec said. "We call these our 'state championship' uniforms, and the last team to win it was Megan's. We've always felt like she's been with us. Once a Spartan, always a Spartan."
With the win Kopec tied ex-Mother McAuley coach Nancy Pedersen for the most state titles by a coach. The first came in 1988. This one was special, a true family affair.
Six of the Spartans had older sisters play for St. Francis, including Mary Boken, or in the case of Maddie and Molly Haggerty, played together.
"I've been dreaming of this since I was a little girl, watching my sister win here," Boken said. "All these girls, they have meant so much to me."
Molly Haggerty had 12 kills and Maddie Haggerty, who won a state title with Benet last year, had 7. When news came in the spring that the Haggertys were coming to St. Francis many pegged the Spartans as favorites in 3A.
Through tragedy and matches Maddie Haggerty and others missed with injuries, St. Francis is indeed champion. The Spartans (37-5) won their final 14 matches.
"I wouldn't trade these girls for anything. We've come so far this season," Maddie Haggerty said. "There are so many emotions right now I don't even know what it is."
Richmond-Burton (37-5), making its first state appearance, hardly went quietly.
The Rockets, led by 6-foot-1 Penn State-bound junior outside Ali Frantti, tied St. Francis three times midway through Game 1. A bump kill by Kim Russell landed just inside the end line to make it 13-13, and a Frantti ace knotted it at 15-15.
Frantti, who had 519 kills coming into the weekend, put down 16 more Saturday.
Both times, though, St. Francis had the answer with freshman Molly Haggerty. Molly Haggerty broke both ties with undiggable smashes and later answered a Frantti kill by pounding down game point.
"I'm speechless," Molly Haggerty said. "It's a great way to end the season, to send the seniors out with a win."
St. Francis seized control of Game 2 much sooner.
A kill by Michelle McLaughlin and two from Molly Haggerty started a 5-0 run punctuated by a Maddie Haggerty back-row smash for a 7-3 lead. Then at 8-5 a McLaughlin kill and clever dump shot from McKenna Kelsay touched off a decisive 11-1 run for an 18-6 advantage, allowing Kopec to empty the bench.
Becca Shearer also had 2 kills during that stretch.
When Richmond-Burton drew within 24-21, Shearer rose high to put down a kill off an overpass for match point.
Kelsay, one of three St. Francis senior starters, had 37 assists. Like the Haggertys and Bokens, McKenna's older sister Kristen played for St. Francis.
"For me it's indescribable. We've all been thinking of this moment from day one," Kelsay said. "Winning a state championship is the ultimate goal. We've all grown so close, we're all best friends and to win this together is amazing."
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