NORMAL -- Just how dominant was St. Francis' girls volleyball team in winning its second straight Class 3A state championship Saturday?
The match was over before it was scheduled to begin.
With no network TV restrictions dictating start times, the IHSA started Saturday's title match between the Spartans and LaSalle-Peru at 5:30 p.m., a full 30 minutes ahead of the 6 p.m. scheduled start time.
And it was over at 5:58.
St. Francis (39-3) rolled over L-P 25-19, 25-7 to win its 10th state title under 38th year coach Peg Kopec, the second championship of the day for the Suburban Christian Conference, following IC Catholic Prep's Class 2A title earlier in the afternoon.
Kopec, the winningest coach in IHSA volleyball history, became the first coach to win 10 state championships, eclipsing the nine titles won by Mother McAuley's Nancy Wichgers Pedersen. Kopec's 18th appearance in the state final tournament is also a state record.
"As good as any of them," smiled Kopec when asked how the 10th state title felt. "It's pretty special and it's a nice accomplishment for this team. There was a lot of pressure on them throughout the season and we just tried to celebrate the milestones along the way.
"This team had a loot of adversity in many different forms. We had four different players injured and had to move people around a lot."
One of the injured, senior Maddie Haggerty, got to experience the state title with her sophomore sister Molly, who along with junior Mary Boken, had 7 kills to lead the Spartans' offense Saturday.
"I'm really proud of her," said Maddie Haggerty of her sister.
LaSalle-Peru (35-4), playing in its first state title match, hung with the Spartans through the better part of the first set and trailed just 19-18 when a hitting error made it 20-18 and put junior Lisa Mordell at the service line for St. Francis. Two L-P errors, a Molly Haggerty kills and an ace made it 24-18 and the Spartans closed out the set on a Haggerty kill.
The second set was all Spartans. They raced out to an 8-1 lead and eventually closed out the match and their state championship on another Haggerty kill.
"St. Francis is an exceptional team and a great champion," said Cavaliers' coach Mark Haberkorn. "There's a reason they're ranked 14th in the nation."
Senior Natalie Murison, who will play as a defensive specialist at Alabama next year, had 9 assists for the Spartans.
"We asked her to come in and set this year and she never complained," said Kopec of Murison. "Give her a lot of credit. She was an unsung hero and all of our seniors were strong in uniting us."
"I was willing to do anything to help the team," Murison said.
Seniors Kristin Acciavatti and Becca Shearer each had 4 kills for the Spartans, whose only three losses this season were all to Class 4A power Mother McAuley, while sophomore Daniele Messa had 11 assists. Senior libero Sam Dubiel led the defense with 6 digs.
"It's been quite the experience," Dubiel said. "I couldn't have asked for a better team to do this with. This is a different feeling from last year. I'm speechless."
Kopec also paid tribute to Class 2A champion IC Catholic and coach Jean Field, her longtime friend. Kopec and Field now have 2,044 career wins between them.
"If you don't know Jean Field, she's one of the nicest people in volleyball," Kopec said. "I'm very happy and thrilled for her."
Kopec went on to lament the breakup of the Suburban Christian, which has dominated girls volleyball at its level statewide.
"Our conference is falling on hard times right now," she said. "Unfortunately it's dissolving and changing so drastically. It's really a circus right now. We had a lot of teams in our conference go far this year and I feel bad we won't be able to use the strength of our conference in the future because it served us well."