Girls volleyball: Plainfield North ends Benet's season
Ella Wrobel carried a chip on her powerful shoulders for two years, the only current Plainfield North player to experience the painful memory of a playoff loss.
She refused to let history repeat itself Monday.
Wrobel, a 6-foot-4 senior and Wisconsin recruit, took matters into her own hands. She registered seven of her match-high 19 kills in the third set, and added four consecutive aces during a decisive point run to power the second-seeded Tigers past third-seeded Benet 25-14, 18-25, 25-18 in the Class 4A Oswego Sectional semifinal.
It's Plainfield North's first sectional final since 2014, when the program won its only sectional.
Wrobel and the Tigers, who advanced to play top-seeded Metea Valley, erased the memory of a three-set loss to Waubonsie Valley in a 2019 sectional semifinal. In that match, like Monday, Plainfield North (32-6) took the first set in dominant fashion, and led in a second that got away, as the Tigers did Monday.
"We expected to go far that year; I felt the heartbreak of losing that game," Wrobel said. "I'm the only one that was there, and I was really trying to tell the rest of this team how much this actually matters and how hard it is to get this far. We set in stone that we wanted to get this far, we worked every day toward that goal and we never looked back."
The Tigers never looked back after Wrobel blasted kills for five of their first six points in the third set they never trailed in. She adjusted on a couple off-target sets to still put down hits for points, and unloaded off a perfect set one to make it 6-3.
"Ella does have that chip on her shoulders," Tigers coach Matt Slechta said. "She was the only one that remembered that 2019 loss, she had a really big weight on her shoulders and she wanted this one. [Setter] Ella Strausberger being a sophomore, she's getting used to these situations and basically learning how to set. It obviously helps having Ella Wrobel around to get you out of tight spots."
Wrobel showed she's more than just a powerful presence at the net, too. She strung together four of her match-high six aces during an 8-0 run that all but put the match away, making it 13-3.
"We were ahead by a little, I went back to the service line and said this potentially could be my last match," Wrobel said. "I had to put everything on the court or this could have been my last game."
Benet's seniors aren't familiar with their last game being a loss. The Redwings (32-6) took third place in Class 4A in 2018, won the 2019 state title and posted a perfect shortened spring season.
The Redwings had an uncharacteristic six attack errors and one error at the service line in dropping the first set, and trailed early in the second set 7-4.
But Benet, with an extremely young team with zero returning starters from the spring season, fought back to take the second behind four kills from junior middle Anna Eschenbach and three each from senior Caelin Abramic and junior Kirsten Krammer.
"Give credit to our girls, a lot of teams just roll over," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "We talked about it all year, young teams, can they be mentally tough, can they fight back? It's hard to do, but they fought back.
"We tried to do something this year, win a state championship with zero returning starters. I don't believe anybody has ever done that and it's tough."
Benet didn't roll over in the third, either, coming back from down 13-3 to close to 22-18 on a kill from sophomore Ava Novak.
Wrobel answered with her 19th and final kill.
"At the end of the day, Plainfield played great. I give credit to them," said Novak, a club teammate of Wrobel's, who had a team-high 10 kills. "I think this was my first high school season as well as a lot of other girls. We got the experience, we know what to expect and we're going to come back to bring it 10 times more."
Abramic had seven kills and Krammer five for Benet. Jansen had 11 kills and Jordan Fleming three for Plainfield North, which overcame 11 service errors -- six in the second set alone.
"The second set, we missed six serves and that is uncharacteristic of us, Benet had a lot of hitting errors in the first set which is uncharacteristic of them but they bounced back," Slechta said. "A lot of credit to Brad and his team. They do a lot of scouting. I knew it would be one of those tight matches."