Even after top-ranked Mother McAuley made quick work of them, the Glenbard West Hilltoppers had plenty of reasons to hold their heads high while leaving the Autumnfest Volleyball Classic on Saturday afternoon at Glenbard East.
The Hilltoppers, after all, knocked off defending state champion Benet in two games in their first match of the day, then outlasted a solid Crystal Lake South squad in the semis even after dropping Game 1. The two impressive wins got the Hilltoppers to the 30-win plateau and a shot in the finals of the Gold Division against the Mighty Macs, who showed in their 25-10, 25-13 championship why they're ranked No 1 in the state and highly regarded at the national level as well.
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"We were real excited to get this far and we wanted a chance to play McAuley," said sophomore outside hitter Natalie Schilling, who had 5 kills in the finals and landed a spot on the Autumnfest all-tourney squad. "I think we were a little frazzled. We weren't really prepared for their fast offense and their middles, and we were scrambling a bit."
Mother McAuley was led by setter Courtney Joyce, who was named tourney MVP after capping off two stellar days of play with 23 assists and 3 kills against Glenbard West (30-3). But the champs also got great play from Ryann DeJarld, who had 6 kills and 6 digs and also kept the Hilltoppers off balance with strong serves, and middles Kayla Caffey and Kelsey Clark, who combined for 12 kills in the finals.
"It's a great learning experience and we have a lot that we can work on in practice," said senior libero and team leader Meg Demaar, who also made the all-tourney team at Glenbard East.
"It's awesome to make it this far, but McAuley really has no weakness. We wouldn't have to see them until state, so hopefully we can see them down there at Redbird Arena."
Hilltoppers coach Pete Mastandrea said his team had plenty more good than bad this weekend.
"These are steppingstones for our program," the coach said. "We went 37-3 last year and I think we're a better team this year and this is another step telling us that it's the truth."
Mastandrea credited the Mighty Macs (32-2), who have not lost to an Illinois school this year, with playing exceptional volleyball. But he also feels his team did the same in its first two matches.
"I have to say hats off to McAuley, that's a well-oiled machine," he said. "But let's look at how we got there. We played phenomenal against Benet and were in control of the match, and then we came back against a real good Crystal Lake South team. This does not deflate us at all."
Waubonsie Valley (26-6) beat St. Charles East in the quarterfinals before dropping tough three-game battles to both Mother McAuley and Crystal Lake South to place fourth. Benet (28-5), meanwhile, followed up its loss to the Hilltoppers with a three-game loss to Downers Grove North before defeating Loyola to take seventh.