Benet title a family affair

NORMAL — Meghan and Maddie Haggerty might never play another volleyball match together.

This last one sure was one for the family home video.

Wisconsin-bound senior Meghan Haggerty threw down 18 kills, sophomore sister Maddie 16 kills and Meghan served 12 points in a row in a decisive 13-0 third-set run as Benet beat Cary-Grove 25-14, 22-25, 25-16 to win the Class 4A championship on Saturday at Redbird Arena.

The title is Benet's first in a girls team sport.

“This is unbelievable — this team has worked so hard all year,” Maddie Haggerty said. “This was the year that we were going to do it, with all these seniors. They are all like family to me.”

Cary-Grove (37-5), playing in its third straight championship match, battled back from an awesome Benet power display in the first set to win the second and force a third. The 2009 champion Trojans knotted the third set at 10-10 on an Ashley Rosch service ace, but Meghan Haggerty's 18th kill on a slide play gave the Redwings (39-3) back the lead and put her on the service line.

She didn't budge.

Benet ran off 12 more points in a row, and Maddie Haggerty simply took over with 6 of her 9 third-set kills. The 6-foot-1 outside repeatedly went crosscourt or fired missiles into the back corner of Cary-Grove's defense.

“Maddie grew up in front of our eyes,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “We knew that there was going to be a few shots, and she loves those shots. She hit them to perfection. Whenever we saw an opening she put them in the right spot.”

At one point during Meghan Haggerty's freshman year, Baker said she would either serve everything into the net or the wall. But he still saw great potential in her serve.

She recognized it with two service aces during the 12-0 service run.

“I had a feeling that it was going to come down to the serving tonight,” Meghan Haggerty said, “and it did. If we were going to go down tonight, we were going down fighting.”

A kill by Benet's Gabby Pethokoukis capped the pivotal stretch, making it 23-10. Melanie Jereb's kill finally halted Benet's momentum, and Cary-Grove made a mini-run to get within 23-15. Maddie Haggerty's 16th kill landed just in to stem any Trojans' momentum, and Pethokoukis pounded a free ball for match point.

“We just had a horrible time on serve-receive,” Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis said. “We had great plays set up, but we were running out of system like crazy.”

Benet, winner of 181 matches over the last five years, became the first DuPage County school to win a state title since Naperville Central in 2007.

Benet's win was its 20th straight to end the season.

Its last loss, Oct. 6, was eerily similar to Saturday's match as Benet dominated a first set but lost in three.

Not this night.

“We worked too hard this season to let it slip by us,” Maddie Haggerty said.

Cary-Grove, the first public school to advance to state three straight years since Downers Grove South 1992-94, showed the mettle of a former state champion.

Benet unleashed a ferocious power display in the first set, Meghan Haggerty throwing down eight of the Redwings' 17 kills in a set they never trailed in.

Cary-Grove turned the tables in the second, breaking out to a lead as big as 19-10 after one of Jereb's 12 kills.

“Against a team like Benet you cannot make mistakes — you have to play perfect volleyball,” Langanis said. “We had to start blocking, digging people a little more on defense, and our hitters had to take some huge swings against one of the biggest blocks we've ever seen. Once we settled in we started to get Benet on their heels.”

But a Jendryk cross-court kill sparked a 5-1 start to a third set Benet never trailed in.

Ashley Rosch had 9 kills and Jess Bartczyszyn 24 assists for Cary-Grove, which lost to Lyons Township in the 2010 4A championship.

“I was a little surprised to see us let up during that third set, because we've been mentally tough all year,” Langanis said, “but when the pressure was on, Benet stepped up. To be back in the state finals, I don't think anybody else but us believed that we would be here this weekend.”

Images: Benet Academy vs. Cary-Grove, 4A volleyball finals

  Benet vs. Cary in the Class 4A volleyball championship in Normal Saturday. Paul Michna/
  Sheila Wilhelmi of Cary goes up for a block during the Benet vs. Cary Class 4A volleyball championship in Normal Saturday. Paul Michna/
  Benet vs. Cary in the Class 4A volleyball championship in Normal Saturday. Paul Michna/
  Benet vs. Cary in the Class 4A volleyball championship in Normal Saturday. Paul Michna/
  Benet vs. Cary in the Class 4A volleyball championship in Normal Saturday. Paul Michna/
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