Geneva girls volleyball coach KC Johnsen knows all too well about the strength of Joliet Catholic's program.
The Angels, who earned back-to-back Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2009, have captured 12 straight regional championships and have posted 8 consecutive 30-plus winning seasons.
They've also made a habit out of winning tournament titles.
Joliet Catholic made its annual early September trek to the western suburbs a winning one, capturing its eighth consecutive Geneva Invitational crown with a hard-fought 20-25, 25-21, 25-15 title triumph over the host Vikings (7-2) Saturday afternoon.
Geneva, which won 4 of its 5 matches for the day, gave the Angels all they could handle in the championship match.
Powered by 6-foot-2 freshman Grace Loberg (8 kills) and juniors Hannah Lanasa (7 kills) and Maddie Courter (4 kills, 3 aces, 2 blocks), the Vikings scored the last 4 points to take the opening game.
In Game 2, the Vikings had their share of opportunities, grabbing a 16-14 lead on a middle kill from 6-1 senior Taylor Marmitt (3 kills).
Joliet Catholic countered with a 5-2 run to take a 19-18 lead on a powerful kill by junior Madeline Grimm (9 kills, 1 ace).
After another Marmitt kill tied the game at 19-19, Grimm answered with a tip kill as the Angels scored 6 of the final 8 points to force a decisive third game.
"We just didn't finish at the end," said Courter. "I thought we played really well in the second game but obviously they played well, too."
In Game 3, Geneva led briefly at 6-4 but Joliet Catholic pulled away thanks to a 16-5 surge that was fueled by senior outside hitter Julia Shemaitis (8 kills, 2 aces) and junior Mary Murphy (3 kills, 4 aces).
"They are just extremely solid," Johnsen said of Joliet Catholic. "Even when they were struggling a little bit and we were playing well, they stayed pretty steady. I don't think they have a real low place to go. When they're a little off, they're still pretty good."
It was the lone blemish of the day for the Vikings, who reached the finals on the strength of their 25-19, 25-21 semifinal win over DeKalb.
Geneva posted a 3-0 mark in pool play with victories over IMSA (25-13, 25-9), Morris (25-15, 25-7), and Burlington Central (25-22, 25-18).
"We're about the second happiest that we could be," said Johnsen. "But overall we had a good day. I thought we played fairly well against DeKalb and Burlington."
Geneva received solid contributions from its youthful roster that includes 3 sophomores and a pair of freshmen.
"We have a lot of talent," said Courter. "We just need to mesh as a team but we've been improving a lot lately. I think it's all starting to come together."
"That's one of the beautiful things about high school sports -- you grow up pretty fast," said Johnsen. "We've got nine matches in now. Our sophomores are playing more like juniors and seniors, and our freshmen are playing more like juniors. Hopefully we'll keep building on that."
Geneva opens Upstate Eight Conference River Division play Tuesday at Elgin.
Burlington Central, which finished 2-1 in pool play with wins over IMSA (25-18, 25-20) and Morris (25-22, 25-23), lost to Joliet Catholic in the semifinals (20-25, 16-25) before dropping the third-place match to DeKalb (10-25, 20-25).