Girls volleyball: Benet turns the tables on Marist at right time
NORMAL -- Cruising, cruising, cruising along.
That's what the Benet girls volleyball team did for its first 34 games this fall.
All wins. And all but four of the wins came in straight sets.
But then the Redwings, in their final game of the regular season on Oct. 22, ran up against a Marist team that threw some choppy water their way.
Marist, ranked seventh in the country by USA Today, definitely rocked the boat, sweeping Benet, ranked 11th in the country, in two games just a week before the IHSA state tournament started.
More than three weeks, five games, and five wins later, that loss seemed to still be gnawing at the Redwings on Friday at the Class 4A state semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal.
"You definitely use it as motivation when you get kicked," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "They (Marist) beat us up (in the final regular season game). We took a whooping. And we had to turn it around and forget about it and hold our heads high."
You could say that Benet is sky high right now.
The Redwings delivered quite a response in the much anticipated rematch between the two titans. With the stakes even higher, they took out Marist, the back-to-back defending state champion, in commanding fashion, posting a victory in straight sets, 25-12, 25-23.
"We're looking for games like this," said Benet senior outside hitter Colleen McGuire, who finished with 6 kills. "We're looking for fun games that are high intensity and a high level of play because playing in these is what improves us as players. Playing in these is why we play volleyball."
Benet, now 40-1 on the season, will face Wheaton Warrenville South (33-8) in Saturday's 8:55 p.m. state championship game while Marist (38-3) will take on Fremd (36-5) in the 7:25 p.m. third-place game.
The Redwings, in the state finals for the seventh time in 13 years, will be seeking their fourth state title over that span. They won championships in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
"To be a part of this team and this group of girls and Benet volleyball is an honor," said Benet senior outside hitter Sophie Gregus, who finished with a match-high 8 kills. "We play for everyone who played before us."
And some of those who played before the current Redwings had some special messages for them as they prepared for the state finals this week.
"Coach (Baker) showed us a video of some alumni giving us some advice before we played this game and just seeing everyone who has gone before us and made this rich tradition is really cool to see and we just want to play for them and play for our school and play for each other," Gregus said. "They told us (on the video) to cherish it (the state finals experience)."
A couple of big kills by senior outside hitter Colleen McGuire (6 kills) helped give Benet a win in the first set and McGuire put away the kill that sealed the match in set two off a set by Rachel Muisenga, who finished with 22 assists.
Meanwhile, Marist could never get much traction. But the Redhawks were much more scrappy in the second set after falling behind 21-9 in the first set.
"We've talked about it and if we had to lose, it's good that we lost to a team like that (Benet)," said Marist senior hitter Camryn Hannah, who tied senior hitter Avery Jedry with a team-high 6 kills. "They put up a good fight and they gave us a good game and I think that's all we could have asked for."