Girls volleyball: Geneva downs Benet in a true classic at Wheaton

The calendar may read September but there definitely was a November feel to Saturday's Wheaton Classic championship match between state volleyball powers Geneva and Benet Academy.

Led by senior outside hitters Ally Barrett (match-high 14 kills) and Grace Loberg (10 kills, 2 aces), Geneva (14-0) captured the Gold flight title with a scintillating 31-29, 29-27 victory over the Redwings (13-1) in a matchup of the top two teams in the Daily Herald Top 20.

"It was crazy but it was a lot of fun to play," said Barrett, who received a picture-perfect assist from senior setter Mikayla Lanasa (27 assists, 3 kills) on the match-clinching put-down.

"It's really nerve-wracking in those tight positions because you know you have no room for mistakes but that's when it's the most fun to play."

Each set featured high-quality volleyball on both sides of the net.

The opening set included 16 ties and 11 lead changes - the last coming when the Vikings broke a 29-al deadlock on an ace by junior libero Payton Bellano (4 aces) to grab a 30-29 advantage.

Senior middle blocker Julia Brown (5 kills) delivered the winning kill in the first game off a quick set from Lanasa.

"Everyone knows Grace (Loberg) and Ally (Barrett)," said Vikings coach Annie Seitelman. "They've been four-year varsity players. They've made a name for themselves but I felt like this tournament and all season long, we've had other kids stepping up.

"The nice thing is we really don't have any weak rotation. We have kids in every rotation that can get the job done."

Early in the second set, the Vikings received an emotional lift from junior outside hitter Molly Lambillotte, who made 3 straight acrobatic digs prior to a Loberg kill before delivering an ace.

"Those are energy builders," said Seitelman. "Our kids did a nice job of putting pressure on them from the service line. Taking them out of system allows us a better opportunity to set up our defense."

Senior outside hitter Veronica Snelling paced the Redwings with 12 kills while senior setter Sara Nielsen added 27 assists.

"They were in system more than we were," admitted Benet coach Brad Baker, whose teams have lost just 16 matches in the last 5-plus seasons. "We don't like the results obviously but if we want to beat them, we have to play better.

"They're more physical than us - they're bigger. We have to win that battle and we didn't tonight."

Lilly Johnson added 6 blocks for the Redwings, who forced extra play in both sets after falling behind 24-22.

"Neither side gave up and pushed hard until the end," said Baker. "We're going to get better playing teams like this."

Loberg, who recorded 7 kills and 3 aces in the Vikings' 25-12, 25-23 semifinal triumph over Neuqua Valley, is enjoying her team's fast start.

"I'm having so much fun," said the 6-foot-2 Wisconsin recruit. "I feel like we're a strong team but I think the thing that makes us special is our chemistry with each other."

"It's early but this could be a matchup we see later on down the road," said Seitelman. "They've been in our sectional the last few years so I wouldn't think this year would be any different."

St. Charles North went 2-3 in the weekend tournament, taking 12th place. Abby Graham had 53 kills, 32 digs, and 5 aces for the tournament, while sophomore Gigi Crescendo added 27 kills, 37 digs, and 3 aces. The North Stars were also led by Amanda Parker and Katie Lanz. Lanz finished the tournament with 53 assists, while Parker finished with 42. They each chipped in 21 kills as well. Lauren Caprini led the Stars' defense with 67 digs and added 9 aces.

At Westminster Christian: Elgin went 5-0 Saturday to win the Westminster Christian tournament for the second straight year. The Maroons defeated Willows, Chicago U-High, Westminster, Waukegan and Antioch. Stat leaders for Elgin (11-10) were Karen Aguirre with 11 aces and 80 digs Lauren Powers with 43 digs, Inga Suceska with 10 aces, 8 digs, 16 assists, 11 kills and 2 blocks, Sofia Mari with 10 aces, 35 digs, 32 assists, 33 kills and 3 blocks and Sarah Brandes with 5 digs, 21 kills and 17 blocks.

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