At Redbird Arena, Normal
The matchups: Crystal Lake South (37-3) vs. Benet (35-5), 7:30 p.m. Friday; Mother McAuley (38-2) vs. New Trier (30-3), 9 p.m. Friday.
CL South vs. Benet
How they got here: Crystal Lake South defeated Cary-Grove 25-20, 25-22 and Crystal Lake Central 25-14, 25-23 to win the Dundee-Crown regional; defeated Rockford Boylan 25-22, 26-24 and Warren 25-14, 25-20 to win the Belvidere North sectional; defeated Lake Zurich 25-18, 25-18 to win the Huntley supersectional. Benet defeated Plainfield East 25-13, 26-24 and Lockport 25-18, 25-15 to win the Plainfield East regional; defeated Waubonsie Valley 25-21, 24-26, 25-13 to win the Plainfield South sectional; defeated Normal Community 25-18, 25-20 to win the Normal supersectional.
The coaches: Jorie Fontana is in her sixth year as CL South coach with a record of 155-72; Brad Baker is in his seventh year as Benet's coach with a record of 256-28.
State tournament history: Crystal Lake South is in the state final tournament for the sixth time in program history and first since 1996. The Gators were second in Class AA in 1991 and 1995, third in 1992 and fourth in 1993. Benet is making its fourth trip to state. The Redwings finished second in 2008 and won the Class 4A state title in 2011 and 2012.
Outlook: Benet goes for the three-peat and Crystal Lake South looks to return to the glory years of the Pete Kottra-coached teams of the middle 1990s.
"Our kids know the plan we have in place and we have the confidence that it works," said Benet coach Brad Baker. "You win a title, then you win another one, and the kids believe. Our track record has success. This is a new team and we tell them they have to win it their way. They want to win their own title and they've put themselves into a position to do that."
The Redwings have won eight straight since losing back-to-back matches to Glenbard West and Downers Grove North. In the playoffs only Waubonsie Valley in the sectional semifinal has taken Benet to three sets. Junior 6-3 middle Rachael Fara (135 kills, 96 blocks), 5-11 senior outside Whitney Battoe (211 kills, 134 digs) and 5-11 senior outside Ashley Hitchcock (170 kills) have had stellar seasons picking up the team after the loss to a shoulder injury of senior middle Brittany Pavich. A strong defense is led by 5-9 senior libero Caroline Wolf (509 digs), 5-10 sophomore Tiffany Clark (245 digs, 114 kills) and 5-9 junior Natalie Canulli (196 digs). Senior 6-foot setter Stephanie Sinnappan has 868 assists and 189 digs.
"They have the confidence and the awareness of the surroundings. They've been there," said CL South coach Jorie Fontana of Benet. "They're very consistent. Their serve receive and defense is great so we'll have to stay strong. It will be a mental game and a strategy game. We'll have to target players that might be having an off night and be aware of their go-to spots. We've talked all year about our No. 1 goal. These kids want to win state and Benet is just another step for us."
The Gators' only losses this season have been to Naperville North the fourth match of the season, Lincoln-Way Central at the Asics Challenge and Glenbard West at Autumnfest. They've only been taken to three sets five times.
CL South, ranked No. 97 in prepvolleyball.com's Top 100, is led by the strong hitting trio of 6-foot junior Carly Nolan (367 kills, 261 digs, 51 aces), who committed to Cincinnati this week, 6-1 senior Nicole Slimko (231 kills, 90 blocks, 110 digs) and 5-10 senior Avalon Nero (239 kills, 208 digs, 51 aces). Senior Hannah Wilson has 235 digs and junior Tori Falbo 193. Junior setter Cassy Sivesind has 833 assists.
"Crystal Lake South is a great team," Baker said. "They do everything well and they're very consistent. They don't have any flaws. They just do everything well."
Benet was left out of prepvolleyball.com's Top 100.
"They're all ranked higher than us nationally," Baker said of the Class 4A Final Four, "so we have to go get them."
Mother McAuley vs. New Trier
Outlook: When it comes to volleyball in Illinois, McAuley is the staple. The Mighty Macs are in their 25th state final tournament and are seeking the program's 14th state championship since winning their first in 1977. They took third last year, losing to New Trier in three sets in the semifinals, which clearly amps up the volume on Friday's final match of the day.
McAuley hasn't lost to an Illinois team this season. Ranked No. 7 in the country by prepvolleyball.com, the Macs' only losses were to Mercy (Ky.) at the Louisville Invitational and to Assumption (Ky.) at the Asics Challenge. They are led by 5-10 junior Ryann DeJarid (209 kills, 285 digs), 5-11 junior Kelsey Clark (207 kills) and 5-9 senior Courtney Joyce (694 assists, 235 digs, 108 kills).
New Trier, last year's state runner-up, is in the state finals for the eighth time, including 1974 when New Trier East won the state title. As New Trier the Trevians are seeking their first state crown. This year's team has lost only to Glenbrook South, DeKalb and Marian Catholic. Ranked No. 95 by prepvolleyball.com, the Trevians are led by 6-foot all-everything setter Taylor Tashima, who has 170 kills, 423 assists and 154 digs. Senior libero Emily Friedler leads the defense with 274 digs.
The matchups: Chicago Walter Payton Prep (27-11) vs. LaSalle-Peru (34-3), 4:30 p.m. Friday; St. Francis (37-3) vs. Breese Central (35-5), 6 p.m. Friday.
St. Francis vs. Breese Central
How they got here: St. Francis defeated Timothy Christian 25-17, 25-15 and Montini 21-25, 25-15, 25-18 to win the Timothy Christian regional; defeated Joliet Catholic 25-10, 25-18 and Coal City 25-9, 25-21 to win the Coal City sectional; defeated Chicago Christian 25-10, 25-15 to win the Joliet Catholic supersectional; Breese Central defeated Troy Triad 25-16, 25-22 and Breese Mater Dei 25-21, 25-19 to win the Troy Triad regional; defeated Benton 25-15, 25-15 and Mascoutah 25-16, 25-16 to win the Waterloo sectional; defeated Rochester 25-19, 20-25, 25-23 to win the Effingham supersectional.
The coaches: St. Francis coach Peg Kopec is in her 38th year with a record of 1,157-222-2. She is the winningest coach in IHSA volleyball history. Breese Central coach Jim Cook is in his 19th year at Breese with a record of 581-169. His 26-year record overall is 683-236-1.
State tournament history: St. Francis is making its 18th state finals appearance. The Spartans have won nine state championships, including the Class 3A title last year. Breese Central is in the state final tournament for the 11th time and first since 2011. The Cougars won Class A state titles in 1996 and 2005 and the Class 2A title in 2007.
Outlook: State trips may be old hat for St. Francis but they never get old, according to longtime coach Peg Kopec, whose program is seeking its 10th state championship. And Kopec doesn't talk to the Spartans about any trip to state except this one.
"It's exciting every time," Kopec said. "It's our 18th trip, but we don't talk about last year or any other year. This team is unique to itself."
St. Francis, ranked No. 14 in the country by prepvolleyball.com, had to endure the loss of 6-foot-2 senior outside Maddie Haggerty to a shoulder injury in early October, have only lost to Class 4A power Mother McAuley (ranked No. 7 by prepvolleyball.com) this season, the last time in a three-set marathon at the Asics Challenge, the final two sets going to 30-28 scores. Since then St. Francis has won 12 straight, nine of them without Haggerty, and only been taken to three sets once -- by Montini in the Timothy Christian regional final.
"We've seen some great competition in the playoffs," said Kopec, whose team won the program's 28th straight regional title. "Montini had a really nice team. We always have a tough regional and this year was one of the toughest ones."
The Spartans are led by 6-1 sophomore Molly Haggerty, Maddie's sister, who has 319 kills, 73 blocks and 281 digs this season. Mary Boken, a 6-1 junior middle, has 206 kills and 5-11 freshman Kamryn Malloy has 135. Sophomore Daniele Messa (413 assists, 138 digs) and 5-4 senior Natalie Murison (384 assists, 145 digs) set things up for the Spartans and the defense is led by 5-5 senior libero Sam Dubiel (597 digs).
"We're very young, but the kids have bought into what we've done offensively and I have the best libero I've ever had," Kopec said. "We've got many fine hitters and we've tried to maintain our balance and focus. Our schedule has been extremely tough."
In Breese Central the Spartans will be facing another perennially strong program, one with three state titles under 26th-year head coach Jim Cook. Breese is at state for the third time in the last four years. The Cougars had to hold off a late charge by Rochester in the third set to win their supersectional match.
The Cougars, who hail from the St. Louis area and who haven't played a team north of Bloomington-Normal this season, are led by 5-10 senior middle Madison Timmerman, a Maryville University recruit who has 419 kills, 192 blocks and 152 digs for the season. She had 19 kills in Breese's supersectional win. Senior middle Maisie Kampwerth (5-11) has 170 kills and 110 blocks, 5-7 senior Taylor Rakers has 238 digs and senior setter Torre Kohrmann 526 assists.
"The town of Breese creates some very very good volleyball teams," Kopec said. "We saw them in Effingham and (Timmerman) is a very big part of their game. This will be a great challenge for us."
Payton vs. LaSalle-Peru
Outlook: Payton, which beat Marian Central in the supersectional at Antioch to prevent the Suburban Christian Conference from having three teams downstate, is in the state finals for the third time. The Grizzlies finished fourth in 2008 and again in 2010. The Grizzlies are led by 6-3 sophomore Olivia Rozmus, who has 362 kills for the season.
LaSalle-Peru is in the state finals for just the second time and the first since 1990, when the Cavaliers took fourth place in Class AA. They are also led by a sophomore, the 5-11 Taylor Gibson, who has 268 kills, 201 digs and 68 aces.
The matchups: IC Catholic Prep (34-6) vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw (36-1), noon Friday; Edwards County (40-0) vs. Minonk Fieldcrest (33-4-1), 1:30 p.m. Friday.
IC Catholic vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw
How they got here: IC Catholic defeated Aurora Christian 25-16, 25-9 and Westmont 25-19, 25-21 to win the Aurora Christian regional; defeated Dakota 25-18, 17-25, 26-24 and Oregon 25-17, 25-17 to win the South Beloit sectional; defeated Morgan Park Academy 25-14, 25-13 to win the Lisle supersectional.
The coaches: IC Catholic's Jean Field is in her 39th year with a career record of 883-474-7, making her the sixth winningest coach in IHSA volleyball history. Deer Creek's Brandon Mueller, the former Bartlett head coach, is in his first year at Dee-Mack.
State tournament history: IC Catholic is in the state final tournament for the ninth time in program history and first since 1993. The Knights won Class A state titles in 1981 and 1984. Deer Creek is in its third state final and is the defending Class 2A state champion.
Outlook: One might think IC Catholic has its back against the wall facing the defending state champion in Friday's state semifinal. But the Knights showed they can take care of business against a top team when they knocked off Dakota, the team Dee-Mack beat in last year's 2A title game, in the sectional semifinals. Having played in Class 3A last year and losing to Nazareth in a regional final, IC coach Jean Field is happy to be back in 2A, where the competition is more suited to her team.
"Our conference is pretty competitive," Field said of the Suburban Christian, "but we hadn't seen the kind of size Nazareth had. But we were counting on another year of experience and we knew that with that year of experience we'd have a shot this year."
The Knights, who have won 15 straight matches and 19 of 20 since back-to-back losses to Montini and Chicago Latin in early October, are led by what Field calls her "senior triangle" -- 6-foot Rory Manion (375 kills, 257 digs), 5-11 Delaney D'Amore (419 kills, 509 digs) and 5-10 setter Kimmy Martino (828 assists, 115 kills, 133 digs). Sophomore libero Kerry Mulligan has 278 digs on the season.
"Defensively, we're a good team, we serve pretty aggressively and we have a good offense," Field said.
Dee-Mack, enrollment 324 and a member of the Heart of Illinois Conference, has lost only to Sacred Heart-Griffin this season and brings a 13-match winning streak into state since that Oct. 5 setback. The Chiefs have only been taken to three sets five times this year, including in their supersectional win over Decatur St. Teresa. They are led by 5-10 junior outside Lauren Anderson, a Lipscomb recruit who had 27 kills and 19 digs in the supersectional and had 336 kills, 265 digs and 70 aces for the season. Senior libero Jessey Lee, a Southern Indiana recruit, had 22 digs in the super and has 383 for the season. Kyleigh Block, a 5-9 senior, has 275 kills, 311 digs and 136 aces and sophomore setter Kenzie Rhodes has 407 assists. She's backed up by senior Megan Stone, who has 344 assists.
"They've got a lot of experience back," Field said of the Chiefs. "They have a lot to play for and so do we. We know we're going to have to play well, but these kids look at it as a challenge. They're not afraid of it, they're excited about it."
Dee-Mack coach Brandon Mueller, who was head coach at Bartlett for four seasons, is now a special-education teacher at the Dee-Mack junior high school.
"It's worked out well," Mueller said of his move to central Illinois. "They had an opening and I knew a few of the girls from the club team I coached. It's been a great situation for me. There's a lot of great volleyball players here."
Mueller said while he doesn't know a lot about IC Catholic, his knowledge of the SCC tells him it will be a tough match for his team.
"It's going to be a battle," he said. "We know they beat Dakota and Dakota was a great team. It will come down to whoever makes the smartest plays at the end."
Edwards County vs. Minonk Fieldcrest
Outlook: Edwards County, fourth in 2A last year, is seeking to become only the second team to win a state title undefeated since the IHSA went to four classes in 2007 and Crystal Lake Central won the 3A title with a 42-0 mark that year. The Lions, who have been taken to three sets just three times this season, including in their sectional semifinal and supersectional matches, are led by 6-foot senior outside Whitney Beck (362 kills, 272 digs). Minonk Fieldcrest is in the state final tournament for the first time. The Knights, who have no 6-footers, are led by 5-8 senior Kaitlyn Petersen (277 kills).