Glenbard West plays like it belongs in volleyball finals

NORMAL - Most girls volleyball teams playing in the state finals at Redbird Arena for the first time experience a case of the jitters.

Not Glenbard West.

The Hilltoppers never allowed the bright lights nor the big arena to affect their game. They defeated Normal Community 25-20, 25-23 in the Class 4A semifinals Friday night.

Glenbard West (36-5), in the state finals for the first time since winning the 1983 Class AA title, will play St. Francis at 9 p.m. Saturday for the state championship in a match that will pit Hilltoppers coach Pete Mastandrea against his first volleyball mentor, St. Francis coach Peg Kopec.

St. Francis (38-3) defeated Cary-Grove 25-20, 25-18 in Friday's second semifinal. Cary-Grove will take on Normal at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for third place.

"We just told each other to go out and play hard," said Hilltoppers senior Quiana Ware. "The big arena is something we were looking forward to. We just went out and played to the best of our ability."

Senior standout Natalie Schilling had 11 kills and 10 digs to lead the way for the Hilltoppers, who never trailed by more than 2 points in either set.

"It's surreal right now," the Duke-bound Schilling said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet. We've been thinking about this since we lost in the Elite Eight freshman year. We knew we could do big things this year."

The Hilltoppers jumped ahead 5-1 in the first set and seemed to have Normal (30-10) on its heels the rest of the night.

Trailing 11-9, Glenbard West went on a 10-0 run with Ware at the service line to take a 19-11 lead. Schilling had 2 kills and a block during the spurt.

"That's my team," Mastandrea said. "We go on big runs. We've got some explosive hitters who can score at will."

Normal, which finished third here last year, tried to get back into the set and eventually closed to within 23-20 on a kill from MaKenna Barnhart, but the Ironmen then hit out of bounds and committed a net violation on set point.

"We just weren't finding ways to score offensively," said Normal coach Christine Konopasek. "Glenbard West consistently pushed us and we erred ourselves out of that first set."

The second set was back-and-forth with 16 ties and seven lead changes. Normal led 18-15 and 19-17 before Glenbard West, with junior Claire Wagner serving, took a 20-19 lead on a Schilling kill. A Barnhart kill tied it at 20-20 but Normal then hit out of bounds and the Hilltoppers never trailed again. Ananda Patterson's kill and another Normal net violation ended the match, sending Glenbard West to Saturday's title-match appearance.

"Oh, man, are you kidding me?" Mastandrea asked with a smile. "What a great feeling. The kids deserve it. They've worked hard. We said we'd like to get here, but I think the kids have bigger things on their minds. They did a fantastic job of preparing for something we're new to. It's been a big dream. It's been a process and it hasn't been easy, but they are resilient kids and I'm proud of them."

Ware and junior Ella Ridinger added 5 kills each for the Hilltoppers, Claire Wagner had 15 digs and senior setter Kate Wagner ran the offense with 25 assists and picked up the defense with 11 digs.

"We're always trying to make it more comfortable for each other and we just tried to use the big environment to our advantage," Kate Wagner said.

Barnhart led Normal with 9 kills with Kendall Sosa and Micki Quakenbush adding 7 kills each. Ginny Gerig had 14 digs for the Ironmen, who committed 17 errors compared to only 8 by Glenbard West.

"Glenbard West played an extremely consistent match and worked incredibly hard to make sure we weren't effective in our offense, so we have to tip our hat to them," Konopasek said.

Images: Glenbard West over Normal in a Class 4A volleyball semifinal

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