Girls volleyball: WW South roars past Fremd in state semifinal
NORMAL -- There was doubt. And a whole lot of rough spots.
But that was four years ago. And a lot has changed since then.
Like back then, the Wheaton Warrenville South girls volleyball team was young, inexperienced and deep in the shadows of the perennial power boys volleyball team at the school, which had won seven state championships from 2001 to 2012.
The Wheaton Warrenville South girls hadn't advanced out of the regional championship since 2002.
"Freshman year, we weren't expected to be a good program," said Wheaton Warrenville South middle hitter Kaileigh Ammons, a four-year starter for the Tigers. "And that's kind of been our motto, something that we've kept in our heads, that people really don't expect a lot from us. We haven't had a lot of history in the girls program. But we got in the gym and we really worked hard to get here."
Here is the state finals at Redbird Arena in downstate Normal.
That's where the Tigers were on Friday night. And now, after a commanding 25-15, 25-16 win over Fremd in the Class 4A state semifinals, the Wheaton Warrenville South girls are in position to win a state title of their own, the first in program history.
On Saturday night the Tigers will face Benet, which downed Marist in two sets in the second semifinal Friday. Benet defeated WWS in three sets on Sept. 21 at the Wheaton Classic.
Ammons, senior setter Sarah Burau and senior middle hitter Annika Barron remember the lumps they took and the tough lessons they learned as freshmen on varsity four years ago.
"For the three of us, it's a fairy tale ending to be here and now in the state championship match," Barron said. "Freshman year, I would have never imagined being here. But now we are and it's the best thing that's ever happened to us.
"And also, in the crowd tonight, I saw that there was a player of ours, our libero actually, from freshman year. And it was a reminder that every single person who has been on this team over the past four years has really helped us get to this point. It's a testament not just to us, but to everyone who's played here and worked hard so that everyone gets better."
Wheaton Warrenville South (33-8) took control in the first set with a cluster of kills by Barron and junior outside hitter Lizzie Chiesa. Both Barron and Chiesa finished with 10 kills apiece.
Ammons had a couple of big kills in the final moments of the second set and junior middle hitter Maddie Kruse put down a kill off a Burau (28 assists) set for match point.
"Everyone did their jobs tonight," said Wheaton Warrenville South coach Bill Schreier, who also got 16 digs out of libero Darby Harris. "They did a nice job executing and now we're here."
Fremd, which will take a 36-5 record into Saturday's third-place match against Marist, was also vying for its first state championship. And like Wheaton Warrenville South four years ago, Fremd was fielding a very young team.
The Vikings start four sophomores, including setter Rian Baker, who finished with 16 assists and Rylen Reid, who is Fremd's leading hitter and had a team-high 10 kills on the night.
"I think we did a great job of making the adjustment this season and realizing that 'Yes, we are young and maybe the expectations aren't high for us as sophomores, but we can still play with a lot of people and still have positive energy and still expect us to do really well, '" said Fremd coach Curt Pinley, who also got 7 kills out of Rylen's older sister Breslen Reid, a senior.
"That's what happened as the season progressed. The idea of us being sophomores kind of faded away."
Pinley's message to his young team in the postgame locker room was to not get caught up in this one result against Wheaton Warrenville South, to not let that one result define an otherwise magical season.
"I look back at (all the big wins this season) and I think, 'We did that together as a team, and we got here together as a team,' " Baker said. "Just being here is super cool and ya, we lost. But you're going to lose games and we can't let that affect the way we play tomorrow (in the third-place game). We're a good team and we can play so much better and have a great day tomorrow."