Now Benet can call itself elite

NORMAL — It doesn't take that first college-level trig class for Benet's kids to do the math.

There is a triangle of excellence, expectations and high standards surrounding its 112-year-old doors.

And oh yeah, this Benet volleyball team felt it.

The volleyball talent walking through the hallways of Benet the last few years is unmatched by any school in the state, let alone the immediate area.

Seven seniors committed to Division I schools and seven 6-footers on this team alone.

Any coach would kill to be blessed with that kind of arsenal. But it's a curse, too.

Any Benet win the last four years was expected, and even not-satisfactory-enough victories were dissected like few other teams' are. I had one interested Benet follower predict to me a 42-0 season last year before the first serve was tossed.

And good heavens, a loss?

It must have meant they fold when the chips are down. Coach messed up. It never could be the opponents' great play. That's pressure the likes my beloved New York Yankees play under, minus the $200 million payroll.

Saturday night, Benet's girls collectively said, “forget all that. It's our time.”

Against a championship-caliber opponent in Cary-Grove, Benet showed it had the guts of a champion when it mattered most. The Redwings were punched in the mouth in the second set but came out swinging in the third.

When two of the state's best square off, you just don't see 13-0 runs like Benet's.

“We wanted to show,” said Benet senior Meghan Haggerty, she of the 12 straight service points, “that we could finish it here.”

Benet coach Brad Baker knows the significance of Saturday's program-changing win.

“We know how hard our girls work and this just cements it. Where we are now, it means a lot,” he said. “We've been down to state 40 percent of the time the last five years, but to be considered an elite program you have to win a state championsihp. And we don't just want to win one. We want to win multiple. But you have to start by winning one.”

It's no walk in the park to win it all, and Benet knows that as well as anyone.

Three years ago Benet came to Redbird Arena with one of the best teams in the country, beat McAuley in the semis but then suffered a stinging loss to St. Charles East.

A quick return? No problem. Benet would just re-load like great programs do.

Someone forgot to tell the likes of Hinsdale South, and Benet stumbled in 2009 and 2010 along the way to Normal with title-worthy talent.

There are no shortcuts to ultimate success.

“To win a state championship, it takes time — and five years is not a lot of time,” Baker said. “It took Peg Kopec 14 years to win a state championship at St. Francis. Cary-Grove, it took them 15 years. It takes time. It's not as easy as people think.”

Benet's kids make it look easy sometimes, and not just on the volleyball court.

Baker is just as amazed at how quickly their minds can pick up certain nuances of the game, as he is their exceptional physical gifts.

Five years ago he came to Benet with the idea of adopting the “Stanford model of volleyball.” That is, great academics, great volleyball.

You can now add a state championship to that.

“We wanted what Stanford does to be us,” Baker said, “and why not? It's tough to get into this school and they do everything great. So far, so good.

“These kids average 30.2 on their ACT — and they can play some ball.”

Benet title a family affair

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