Girls volleyball: Genoa-Kingston tops IC Catholic Prep to take 2A state title

Alayna Pierce didn't have her "A" game Friday during the semifinals of the IHSA Class 2A State Finals.

Genoa-Kingston's thundering outside hitter, however, most certainly did have it for the "A" game of the high school volleyball season.

Pierce slammed home 18 kills Saturday afternoon, leading Genoa-Kingston volleyball to the first state championship in program history with a 25-21, 27-25 triumph over IC Catholic at CEFCU (formerly Redbird) Arena in the IHSA Class 2A State championship match.

"It's kind of like a dream come true," Pierce said. "Our whole community has been supporting us and pushing us to this point. Having our teammates here, knowing that we did it, because we worked hard every practice to get to this point, supported each other, uplifted each other on our bad days. We've been through thick and thin together.

"I definitely think this is just amazing that we made it here."

Before this year's run, Genoa-Kingston (37-4) previously had won only three regional titles and never captured a sectional title, much less make an IHSA State Finals appearance. The team state championship is the third in school history along with 1989 girls track and field and 1977 football.

"Good," Genoa-Kingston coach Keith Foster said when asked how it feels, prompting laughs from his team. "It feels earned and deserved."

With just two seniors on the roster, IC Catholic (33-2) - which was making its 10th state championship match appearance and first since winning the program's third state title in 2013 - is already looking forward to next year.

"As I was telling the girls, we had a lot of great nights. A lot," Knights coach Nancy Kerrigan said. "This [bad] one came at the wrong time.

"You know, we have a young team. We're returning everybody but two players, and this is a great learning experience for them. There's a lot to be said about coming back with that experience, which is our plan."

"I think definitely this loss is going to fuel us a lot," said IC Catholic junior Ava Falduto, who tallied a team-high eight kills. "This was our goal. We wanted to get here, and we did, and our No. 1 goal is win state. So I know coming back next year, all of us, we have so much fire in us.

"I know we want to get back here. We will get back here."

Pierce didn't do it on her own Saturday, but she was awfully special at all the right times.

The Knights took the match's opening three rallies - the third point of the run put down on a Delilah Hyland block - but then Pierce began to give IC Catholic a taste of things to come. The 5-11 junior's first kill of the afternoon ended a long rally and drew the Cogs even at 5-5. After a Rylie Stoffregen stuff gave Genoa-Kingston its first lead, Pierce slammed home kills in three of the next six rallies.

She went on to add punishing winner after punishing winner. While playing scrappy and at times jaw-dropping defense - both teams did, in fact - IC Catholic simply never came up with an answer for Pierce's power.

"I did know she had an off night last night," Kerrigan said of Pierce, "and you also know that the great players usually don't have two in a row. We didn't have much to stop her, because she was going right over our block. Height is not part of our tool kit."

Pierce's initial flurry of kills all but decided the opening set. Ultimately, an Alivia Keegan winner off Mia Wise's lone assist did end it.

The Cogs emerged from a back-and-forth second set to craft a 23-21 edge late in the second and looked to be on the verge of a state championship. IC Catholic, however, had other ideas, turning back G-K's initial match point to force a 24-24 tie and creating a set-point opportunity of its own thanks to a Kiely Kemph kill that made it 25-24.

In arguably the point of the match, Cogs senior Lily Mueller took a Keegan assist and put home a clutch backside kill to force extra points.

"[Kills like that are] definitely game-changers in those type of moments ..." Mueller said. "Getting that kill just gets the momentum and gets our confidence boost back up. Just get that one good swing out of the way and then make the easy play next."

"Alayna was on today. She was very effective, so I had been setting her a lot," Keegan said. "I felt the need that we had to switch it up, because [IC] was probably going to go straight to her knowing that we're down one point and going to go to the hot hitter. But I had a lot of trust in Lily on the back side, and she got an amazing kill that put us right back where we needed to be."

That sent Mia Wise to the service line. Wise delivered an ace for another match-point try, and this time Genoa-Kingston cashed in as IC Catholic's final attack of the season went harmlessly into the middle of the net.

The Cogs' celebration was on.

In addition to Falduto's eight kills and match-high 17 digs for the Knights, Lucy Russ had five kills, 14 assists and 13 digs, Abby Pikulik served up two aces, and Alysa Lawton finished with 11 digs.

Along with Pierce's 18 kills, Mueller tallied seven kills, Keegan pushed 19 assists, and four players reached double digits in digs for Genoa-Kingston - Hannah Langton (13), Kailey Kline (12), Keegan (11) and Pierce (10).

Like IC Catholic, Genoa-Kingston has designs on a return trip next November with only four seniors - Kline, Mueller, Madelyn Lavender and Kaitlin Rahn - set to graduate.

"We have phenomenal sophomores on this team and juniors ... but what you can't overlook is what our seniors have done for us," Foster said. "They've been here from when the program was still finding its way, and they've seen us all the way through. The four seniors in this program are just steady, and they've given us the kind of leadership that we need in the big moments that we needed it."

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