Girls volleyball: Benet powers past field at St. Charles East's Scholastic Cup
Annie Eschenbach was at the receiving end of an inadvertent serve from a teammate into the back of her head Saturday, but she shrugged it off.
Eschenbach was too busy bringing the pain herself.
Eschenbach, a 6-foot-4 junior, is the latest in a long line of physical Benet middle hitters. And she appears to be peaking at the right time this year.
Eschenbach had five kills and two blocks in the championship match of St. Charles East's Scholastic Cup tournament held at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora. Benet's 25-20, 25-23 win over downstate power Edwardsville finished off a big day for its powerful hitter in the middle.
"She has been so close all year, and all today she was dominant," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "We see it in practice all the time, that when she's on nobody is going to stop her. We know she has it in her and today she was awesome. She was hurting and she was still great, hit about .600."
Eschenbach was able to play through a shoulder injury to lead Benet (24-3) to its first tournament championship of the season. The Redwings earlier Saturday beat Neuqua Valley and Naperville North for their fourth title in the last five Scholastic Cup tournaments.
"We're a really young team. Winning this tournament is the start to our success for the rest of the season I think," Eschenbach said. "We've been working really hard in practice to get better and better and it shows."
Kirsten Krammer had nine kills and a block, Caelin Abramic five kills, four coming in the second set, and an ace and Ava Novak four kills for the Redwings.
While bigger matches are down the road, winning that first tournament was a building block for the youngest team Baker has ever had at Benet.
"And it's a lot of fun. It's fun to win and you get to go home feeling good, and this group today, I saw them build confidence," Baker said. "Championship teams have that look in their eye and you can see it. This team, as the day went along, I felt it building and building. Believing in yourself is half the battle."
Baker believes he has someone special in the middle, as Eschenbach showed early in the Edwardsville match.
Eschenbach slammed home a kill on a slide play for the match's first point, and later threw down a big hit on a quick-set for an 11-10 lead. Another Eschenbach kill on a quick set and a block helped key a 5-1 run that gave the Redwings the lead for good at 18-14 in the first set.
She showed the eagerness of youth at times, sailing a shot long on what would have set point in the first and was frustrated when a slide shot went wide, but Baker said she's made strides.
"Sometimes new middles, new setters it can take time for that connection to happen," Baker said. "It's like, 'When is it going to happen?' We know it will but are we going to run out of time in the season? It was good to see today and we hope she keeps getting better."
Baker expected to have one of the better middles in the state in his lineup this season, but not necessarily Eschenbach. Ann Marie Remmes, a Creighton recruit, tore her ACL over the summer and won't play this season.
Still, Baker said he would have expected this out of Eschenbach, Remmes or not, and the two middles have still found a way to work together.
Benet never trailed in the second set, taking the lead for good at 6-5 on an Abramic kill down the line. Edwardsville closed what was a 19-14 lead at one point to 24-23, but Abramic drove a kill through an Edwardsville double block for match point.
Baker liked how his team responded to the long day and being pushed in the final.
"Our kids did a really good job of communicating and staying with it," he said. "At times this season our body language has not been great. We're really good volleyball players, show confidence. They did that today and it showed which was good to see."