NORMAL -- Pretty much everyone around Illinois girls volleyball knew it would take a strong team to keep Benet from winning its third straight Class 4A state championship.
Mother McAuley was that team.
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The Mighty Macs, the No. 8 in the latest PrepVolleyball.com national rankings, denied the Redwings the three-peat, winning 25-22, 25-19 Saturday night in the state title match at Redbird Arena.
"There's no question they played great," said Benet coach Brad Baker of the Macs, who won their unprecedented 14th championship -- and first since 2004 -- in their 24th state tournament appearance. "They're one heck of a team. They played great all season and they're the best team in Illinois. Congratulations to them and to coach (Jen) DeJarld."
It wasn't that the Redwings (36-6) did anything to lose the match, they were simply outplayed by a better team. McAuley's size, lightning-quick offense and tremendous defense was just too much for Benet to handle.
"Nobody's going to question how hard we played," Baker said.
The first set had eight ties and four lead changes until McAuley (40-2), which didn't lose to an Illinois team all season, took over for good, 17-16, on a Benet error. The Redwings hung tough and trailed just 24-22 after a service error but a Kayla Caffey kill gave the Mighty Macs the win.
The second set also stayed close early but when a Benet ballhandling error gave McAuley an 18-17 lead, the Redwings could never recover. Baker called timeout at 20-17 but the Macs had the momentum and won the match on a Benet attack error.
McAuley won the game at the net, outhitting the Redwings .229-. 079. Caffey had 8 kills for the Mighty Macs while Ryann DeJarld, the coach's daughter, had seven and Kelsey Clark six.
"When you have three options like they do it's really impossible to stop," Baker said.
Dana Griffin and Rachael Fara each had 6 kills to lead Benet and Whitney Battoe added five. Stephanie Sinnappan had 20 assists. Caroline Wolf led the Redwings' defense with 13 digs and Kelly O'Malley had 11.
Despite the loss, Baker was upbeat about the three-year run to state his team put together.
"If you don't set your goals high you can't reach them," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the teams out there want to be where we are right now."
The championship was the first as a head coach for Jen DeJarld, a longtime assistant at McAuley before taking over the program in 2005. The Mighty Macs had three third-place finishes and one second under her prior to this season.
"It's really special to win my first state title as a head coach," said Jen DeJarld, "especially with my daughter on the team. "We played really well tonight. The girls were determined from the start of the season to win a state title."