Girls volleyball: Cary-Grove, St. Francis, Glenbard West ready for state
Class 4A state semifinals
At Redbird Arena, NormalCary-Grove (35-5) vs. St. Francis (37-3)
When: 9 p.m. Friday
The coaches: Cary-Grove's Patty Langanis is in her 21st season with a record of 597-200-2); St. Francis coach Peg Kopec is in her 40th season with a record of 1,236-229-2.
State tournament history: Cary-Grove is an IHSA state final tournament for the fourth time. The Trojans won the Class 4A championship in 2009 and finished second in 2010 and 2011. St. Francis is in its 20th state final tournament. The Spartans have won 11 state titles, including the last three in Class 3A. They have brough home trophies in 18 of their previous 19 trips to state with 1996 being the only time they didn't.
How they got here: Cary-Grove defeated Harlem and Huntley to win the Jacobs regional, then downed Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South for the Hampshire sectional title before defeating Stevenson to win the Grayslake Central supersectional. St. Francis beat West Chicago and Wheaton North to win its own regional then handled Neuqua Valley and Naperville North to win the East Aurora sectional before beating Benet Academy at the Bolingbrook supersectional.
Outlook: Back at state for the first time since 2011, Cary-Grove has a tall task in front of it, facing the three-time defending Class 3A champion Spartans. St. Francis is the icon when it comes to girls volleyball in Illinois but that doesn't mean the Trojans are ready to throw in the towel.
The first thing Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis has to deal with is the experience at Redbird factor.
"It's going to be difficult to match their experience in Redbird," she said. "Our kids were in junior high the last time we were there so we know that's a huge hurdle. But we went to ISU for team camp in the summer so a lot of them have been on the court. We're just preparing to play St. Francis. You can plan and prepare but until you step on the court for the match you don't know."
Langanis and her team do know that to stop St. Francis the first thing you have to do is control the tempo and attempt to slow down Spartans' senior Molly Haggerty, the reigning Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year. The 6-1 outside hitter, who is headed to Wisconsin, has 443 kills this season to go along with 70 blocks and 188 digs. But Langanis is also impressed with the play of senior setter Daniele Messa, a Missouri State recruit who has dished out 868 assists this season and has added 85 kills and 70 blocks to the offense, as well as that of junior Indiana commit Kamryn Malloy, a 6-foot outside who has 336 kills, 50 blocks and 167 digs. St. Francis coach Peg Kopec calls Malloy, "the most underrated player in the state."
"I'm really impressed with their setter," Langanis said. "She's very offensive and their other outside (Malloy) is playing under Haggerty's shadow. On most teams she'd be a superstar. They are an outside-dominate team and they'll be a handful for us. Defensively not much drops. They read things very well and they're very athletic."
St. Francis coach Peg Kopec hopes her team's familiarity with Redbird will be a factor in the Spartans' favor.
"We're hoping it's very helpful," she said. "We're hoping our kids will be very relaxed and we're hoping for the best."
Kopec said her main concern about Cary-Grove is the Trojans' speed.
"They're a very good team," Kopec said of the Trojans. "They run a very fast offense with a good middle and a good setter."
That setter, 6-foot senior Erin Olson, is where Cary-Grove's offense starts. Not only has the Bradley-bound Olson accumulated 775 assists this season she also had 146 kills, 187 digs and a team-high 50 aces. Senior middle Alli Splitt, an Illinois-Springfield commit, leads the team with 305 kills and 163 blocks while 5-10 senior Sarah Graham has 155 kills, 45 aces and 234 digs and 6-1 sophomore Maddy Katchen has added 118 kills and 158 blocks.
Langanis says early momentum will be important.
"At Redbird, momentum is the key," she said. "You gotta ride the wave because if you get caught in the undertow it's tough. We will have to eliminate our unforced errors, control the ball and force them to put the ball away to get their points."
Glenbard West (35-5) vs. Normal Community (30-9)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
The coaches: Glenbard West's Pete Mastandrea is in his 10th season with a record of 268-105; Normal's Christine Konopasek is in her sixth year with a record of 151-71.
State tournament history: Glenbard West is in its fourth state final tournament but first since 1983 when the Hilltoppers won the Class AA championship. Normal is in its ninth state final tournament. The Ironmen finished third in Class 4A last year.
How they got here: Glenbard West won its own regional by defeating Morton and Glenbard East then went on to beat St. Ignatius and York at the Riverside-Brookfield sectional before downing Loyola at the York supersectional. Normal beat Normal West and Moline to win its own regional, then defeated Bloomington and O'Fallon to win the Springfield sectional. The Ironmen then downed Lincoln-Way North to win the Normal West supersectional.
Outlook: Like Cary-Grove, Glenbard West has to deal with the experience factor Normal Community brings to this semifinal, not to mention the fact the Ironmen, who took third at state last year, are playing in their hometown.
"Redbird is going to be a whole new experience for us," said Hilltoppers' coach Pete Mastendrea. "Normal has been there and they're a minute away. But this is a special time for us and it's a special group of kids who have gone through the process and now they're ready to go down and see what Redbird Arena is all about."
The Hilltoppers have had to overcome some injuries and illness throughout the season and Mastandrea has been pleased with everyone on the team who has stepped up and contributed but the one constant has been the play of 6-2 senior outside Natalie Schilling. The Duke recruit has 483 kills and 211 digs this season as well as 38 aces. She's backed up offensively by 6-foot senior Quiana Ware (Western Michigan), who has battled illness at times but still has managed 238 kills and 153 digs. Six-foot junior Ella Ridinger (194 kills) and the dual setting of senior Emily McLaughlin (131 assists) and senior Kate Wagner (104 assists), who also has 223 digs. Defensively, junior Claire Wagner leads the team with 373 digs.
"The real key to the season is that we had some injuries and health problems but we got better through it," Mastandrea said. "I never thought our defense would be where it's at. Schilling and (Claire) Wagner have been the constants and Quiana is getting healthier and healthier. We're in a good position right now."
Normal brings one of the state's best setters to the arena in Southern Illinois-bound junior Rachel McGuire, who has 820 assists in addition to 119 kills, 52 aces and 211 digs. The Ironmen's big hitter is senior Micki Quakenbush, who has 316 kills. But Normal's offense is balanced as sophomore MaKenna Barnhart has 196 kills, junior Annie Trimpe 192 and junior Kendall Sosa 150. Defensively, senior Ginny Gerig has a team-high 431 digs.
"We have a lot of respect for their setter," said Mastandrea of McGuire. "They have a good libero and a good team but we think we've got a good feel on them. We're confident but we're not overconfident."
If Saturday works out that the Hilltoppers play St. Francis, it will pit Mastandrea against one of his first mentors in St. Francis coach Peg Kopec, who Mastandrea started his coaching career under in 1978.
"She's a great advocate for women's athletics," said Mastandrea of Kopec. "She's tremendous friend and colleague and it would be really neat to play them in the finals. She's an unbelievable manager and I hope she taught me some of that."
Advancement: Friday's winners play at 9 p.m. Saturday for the Class 4A championship. Friday's losers meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for third place.