Trying to adjust to news that it must go forward without one of the top seniors in the state, the St. Francis girls volleyball team found itself trailing late to a young squad in the decisive third game Thursday night.
But the defending Class 3A champion rallied from a 22-20 deficit in the third game to knock off Downers Grove South 25-12, 16-25, 25-23 to improve to 29-3 on the year and 1-0 since learning that outside hitter Maddie Haggerty is in need of shoulder surgery and is lost for the rest of the season.
Maddie's sister Molly, a sophomore, slammed home the match-clinching point off a pass from Daniele Messa, and finished the night with 9 kills and 9 digs. But just as important on the floor Thursday was the senior leadership displayed by Sam Dubiel and Becca Shearer.
Shearer, who had 5 kills and a pair of blocks against the Mustangs, felt a little extra pressure to also play the role of cheerleader when the going got tough late in Game 3. She helped keep her teammates up and even teamed with Molly Haggerty for a block that gave the Spartans a 24-22 lead. Dubiel, meanwhile, was all over the floor while picking up 17 digs.
"As a senior I was feeling the pressure to step up on the court and tell everyone where to go," she said. "I wanted to cheer them up and have a smile on my face even if people weren't all that happy."
None of the Spartans were happy to learn Maddie Haggerty would not return to the lineup, but they still played a superb opener, storming ahead 14-6 following a kill by the younger Haggerty and closing out the game on a winner by Sarah Muisenga.
But Downers Grove South, with just one senior and a pair of freshmen on its roster, rebounded to claim the second game behind the strong passing of Megan Muench and the big hitting of Katie Vondra. Vondra was tough to stop on the left side and finished with a match-high 17 kills.
Vondra stayed hot in the third game and even rifled off an ace for a 21-17 lead before the Spartans rallied to win thanks in part to a pair of missed Mustangs' serves.
"We're young and we're focusing a lot about how to battle," said Downers Grove South coach Trisha Kurth, whose team has 8 wins this fall. "My girls get down when they miss a serve here or there, but we wouldn't be in a situation we were in with a team like that if we didn't serve tough. So mentally they have to stay that way and we have to serve aggressive."
"In that second game we got pushed a lot. Not a little but a lot," Spartans coach Peg Kopec said. "Downers Grove South played a great match. They played better than their record shows."
Now Kopec and her players will carry on their attempt to claim a 10th state title but will have to do so without a key player.
"We found out for sure on Tuesday," Kopec said about Maddie Haggerty's injury. "She won't be back (playing) until May."