St. Viator senior Catherine Hickey will be taking her talents to Limestone College in South Carolina next season, but first she took care of business against Limestone High School in Friday night's wildly entertaining Class 3A Rochelle supersectional match.
The 5-foot-11 outside hitter blasted a match-high 21 kills and blocked Limestone standout Brittany Robinson on match point to secure the Lions thrilling 25-14, 24-26, 25-23 victory and their first-ever trip to the girls volleyball state finals.
St. Viator (29-11) advances to face Resurrection (32-8) in Friday's 4 p.m. state semifinal match at Illinois State's Redbird Arena next Friday.
"After missing a couple of match points, it was a lot of emotion coming up at the end. It was good to just finally end it and get it over with," Hickey said. "It's crazy. We've already made history and now we're continuing to add to it. It's going to be surreal going downstate.
"That was a fantastic match. Both teams played their hearts out and left everything on the court," said St. Viator coach Charlie Curtin. "We were able to get a run going at the end, which was the difference in the whole match."
After a convincing victory in the opening set, the Lions were on the verge of completing the two-game sweep when they rallied from a 21-16 deficit to take a 24-23 lead on the heels of 5 service points from junior Taylor Pfaller, followed by a pair of sideout kills from Hickey.
However, the celebration was put on hold after a St. Viator service error and consecutive hitting errors helped the Rockets (34-5), who were also seeking their first state appearance, force a decisive third game.
"We came out in the first game so strong. The second game we fought back and lost and it was kind of deflating, but we told the girls nothing was over and we still had to score 25 more points and keep fighting," Curtin said.
The nip-and-tuck finale featured 8 lead changes, with Limestone appearing to take control at 21-16. The Lions responded as middle hitter Kate Nottoli landed a crucial kill and Kaylee Liberty followed with an ace to shave the lead to 21-19.
The diminutive 5-foot-4 Pfaller stood tall again at the service line, putting the Lions in front to stay at 24-22 with a pair of aces and two Hickey kills during a dramatic 5-point run. Pfaller finished with 18 service points and 3 aces.
"I just thought that I had to make these serves and push the team closer," Pfaller said.
"Taylor's a great server. She's got the jump-float that makes it amazing. She hit our zones the entire night," Curtin said. "Our serving--when it was on--we kept them way off balance. When we didn't serve where we needed to, they rammed it down our throats."
"Our serve receive has been our bread and butter and it faulted at times, said Rockets coach Shelly Stoner. "I credit my team that they didn't fold after the score of the first game. It was kind of point for point in game three and that's what the supersectionals are all about."
The Lions limited Robinson, who entered with 491 kills on the season, to 16 kills and consistently made the Rockets pay whenever she was in the back row.
"We tried moving our blocks out to get her, and whenever she was up we all knew where she was and knew what she was doing," Nottoli said. "Defense is always first in our book."
Michaela Mueller dished out 31 assists and collected a pair of blocks for St. Viator while Nottoli stepped up with 3 of her 6 kills in the third game. Senior Kendall Claffey added 5 kills.
"The momentum definitely shifted after the second game, but we knew it could potentially be our very last game together and we did not want it to end," Hickey said. "We just came out full force out of our timeout and showed that we wanted it 100 percent -- and we did it."