NORMAL -- In dominant fashion, the St. Francis girls volleyball team rolled to a 25-20, 25-10 win over Breese Central here Friday night in a Class 3A state semifinal match that took just 37 minutes to complete.
The defending state champion Spartans (38-3) will play LaSalle-Peru (35-3) for the state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena. St. Francis will be seeking its 10th state title under 38th year coach Peg Kopec, the winningest volleyball coach in IHSA history. LaSalle-Peru, which will be in its first state title match, defeated Chicago Walter Payton Prep 25-18, 25-17 in Friday's first semifinal.
"It's a complete thrill," said Kopec, who now has 1,158 career wins. "Some people will ask me if this ever gets old. Not on your life. I feel blessed and fortunate. The IHSA gives these young women a wonderful opportunity to have memories for the rest of their lives.
"I'm very proud of these girls."
The Spartans, who have lost this season only to Class 4A power Mother McAuley, were never threatened by a Breese Central team that was facing its first opponent all year from north of Bloomington-Normal.
St. Francis jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first set and even though the Cougars (33-6) forged ties of 7-7 and 8-8, they were never able to take the lead away from the defending champs. A kill from freshman Kamryn Malloy, who had 6 in the match, put the Spartans ahead for good 9-8 and even though Breese fought to stay close, the outcome was never in jeopardy for St. Francis.
"I thought we played great defense and we had great blocking tonight," Kopec said. "This team has a lot of talent and lot of different weapons and we utilized them pretty well."
Junior Mary Boken had 9 kills to lead St. Francis' offense. Junior Lisa Mordell had 9 digs, sophomore Daniele Mesa added 6 digs and 12 assists and senior Natalie Murison had 10 assists.
"The first game we were just getting our nerves out a little," said Boken, "and then the second game we just dominated."
That the Spartans did. After taking an early 4-2 lead, a Breese hitting error made it 5-2 and started an 8-0 run that put St. Francis, appearing in its 18th state final tournament, in control. The Spartans' biggest lead was 15, 23-8, and they closed out the match and secured a spot in the program's 13th state-title match on a kill from junior Sarah Muisenga.
"Coming out on the court we don't focus on the other team, our goal is to win by dominating," said Spartans sophomore Molly Haggerty, who along with senior Becca Shearer had 4 kills. "We saw (Breese Central) practice a little (Thursday). We knew who to stop and we put up a big block."
The Spartans registered 8 blocks as a team to none for Breese Central.
"I thought we did a good job in the first set but we had such weak passing in the second set and we played soft," said Breese coach Jim Cook. "If you play soft against a group like that they're going to put the ball right down your nose."
And now St. Francis goes for back-to-back titles and its sixth since 2002, but the Spartans maintain it's not a feeling that ever gets old.
"It's my third time here but this is as fresh and as exciting as the first time," said Boken. "Being in that tunnel and walking on that court is just as exciting as ever."
Kopec insists there will be no mention of last year or any other year on Saturday.
"We have a deal," she said. "This is team No. 13 (to play for a title). This is their team. This is this year's team. They want to win their title."