Edwardsville can’t stop Benet

NORMAL — Benet’s girls volleyball team is going back to state — and doing so in emphatic fashion.

The Redwings won their fifth postseason match without so much as dropping a set, beating Edwardsville 25-13, 25-21 in the Class 4A Normal Community supersectional.

Benet (37-3) returns to Redbird Arena after a two-year hiatus. Just like in 2008, it beat Edwardsville to get there.

And look who’s waiting in Friday’s semifinal? St. Charles East, which stunned Benet in the 2008 final.

“I’ve been on this team for three years,” said Benet senior Meghan Haggerty, “and it feels good to finally get there. I’m just so proud of my team. We weren’t going to go down in that second game.”

As good as Benet was in the first set, its comeback to end the match in two games may have been more impressive.

Down 17-10 after a kill by Edwardsville’s Purdue-bound Samantha Epenesa, the Redwings stormed back with runs of 5-0 and 10-2 to surge ahead 20-19. Edwardsville’s fourth hitting error of the stretch that also featured Haggerty and Nora Young kills and a Jenna Jendryk block gave Benet its first lead at 20-19.

An Edwardsville service error and hitting error pushed Benet to 23-20, and Maddie Haggerty pounded a kill into the back corner to get to match point. The Redwings sophomore ended it with her fifth kill.

“That was awesome,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “It just shows how badly they wanted it in the second to never give up and continue to play hard. We knew it was going to be a fight. It’s more surprising how the first set went, not the second.”

That rally perhaps best showed Benet’s growth during an 18-match win streak. In the Redwings’ last loss against Marist, they dominated a first set similar to Saturday’s but couldn’t close the deal.

“Trust me, we talk about that match all the time,” Baker said. “We talk about how we felt after that match and making sure we’re fighting all the time so we don’t have that feeling again.”

“I think it comes down to not wanting to give any teams hope,” Jendryk said. “When the other team starts to get momentum we want to stop it right then and there. We’re a much more confident team.”

As usual, Benet spread the wealth among its hitters. Jendryk and Meghan Haggerty each had 7 kills, and Nora Young had 3, as did Gabby Pethokoukis. Hannah Kaminsky dished out 22 assists.

Jendryk had 3 early kills in a first set Benet only trailed once, at 2-1. At 9-6 Benet broke off a 5-0 run, Young putting down a kill and Meghan Haggerty getting going with a pair of kills.

Epenesa had 7 kills and a block for Edwardsville (34-6), which took third in Class 4A last year and came in 38th nationally, according to the most recent rankings. Tigers coach Jamie Parker knew what her team was up against. Edwardsville was at Mizuno Cup to witness perhaps the genesis of Benet’s hot streak, a tournament title that came on the heels of the Marist setback.

Edwardsville started the match by giving Benet 6 of its first 8 points on errors and closed the match with untimely mistakes.

“Benet’s just an incredible team, very much deserving of going to state,” Parker said. “We just made a lot of errors in that second game and let them back in.”

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