Girls volleyball: Benet closes out perfect spring with ESCC title
There was no state trophy and the match was not played at Redbird Arena, but Benet Academy and Marist made the best of an unusual situation by meeting in the ESCC tourney final Wednesday and showing once again that both programs are among the best in the state in girls volleyball.
The Redwings outlasted the Redhawks 23-25, 25-11, 25-22 to cap a perfect 10-0 season and claim the conference title in a long, tight match in Lisle.
Senior setter Rachel Muisenga, a 4-year varsity standout at Benet who helped the Redwings win the 2019-2020 state title, led the way again with 31 assists and four blocks.
Her steady play and confidence helped the hosts rebound after Marist had taken the first set and also had claimed a 17-14 lead in the decisive third set. The Penn State-bound senior constantly fed fellow senior veteran Kyla Kenney, who seemed to be able to put away timely kills when her team needed them the most.
"This was pretty much (a state final)," Muisenga said after Benet knocked off a Marist squad that had claimed the two state titles prior to Benet winning the last one. "It wasn't a state tournament but this is the biggest game we've had all season. It was real exciting to beat Marist and I'm real grateful for this."
Kenney, who led the Redwings with 14 kills, put her team ahead for good with a kill off a feed from Musienga for a 22-21 lead in the third set. Annie Eschenbach and Daria Rodriguez then followed with kills and Benet then closed out the match after an attack error by Marist, which closed out the year 8-4 after battling COVID-19 absences throughout the spring.
"It was a fun night," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "You always want to win the last match of the season and when you do it's usually at Redbird Arena. For this senior group to get to play on their home court for the last match and finish the season undefeated is pretty special."
Marist was led by powerful sophomore outside hitter Kamryn Chaney with 15 kills and six blocks and senior setter Nicole Jones recorded 33 assists in the match.
Redhawks coach Jordan Vidovic was not at all surprised to see another marathon match played between two of the state's elite volleyball programs.
"This is kind of what you come to expect with this matchup," he said. "We really bring out the best of each other."
While the Muisenga to Kenney connection was key to Benet's success, a defense led by Caroline Doyle and Jaci Budrek also had a big impact. Doyle had eight digs as Benet's defense extended plays all night long.
"We did what we could with what we had. I still consider us the reigning champs," said Budrek, a senior libero.