Girls volleyball: Marquette recruit Kenny takes over in third set, rallies Willowbrook past Lyons
Calli Kenny has set the bar awfully high at Willowbrook the last two seasons -- but this year she's reaching for the stars.
Or, as she calls it, the G.O.A.T.
"G.O.A.T., greatest of all time, that's our motto for this year," Kenny said. "We want to have the greatest season that Willowbrook has ever had."
Kenny and the Warriors took a giant first step toward that Wednesday.
The senior Marquette recruit put the team on her back when it mattered most, with a stunning 12 kills in the final set. Kenny and Willowbrook came back from a set down and an early six-point hole in the third for a 21-25, 26-24, 25-19 win at Lyons Township.
Nobody on the Willowbrook side knew if the program had ever beaten Lyons, but even so, it's safe to say it's been a while. The Warriors had lost the last 10 matches to the Lions dating back to 2007. Kenny was a baby when that streak started, but she had her own personal history she hungered to break through against.
"I lost to them my freshman year, I lost to them last year, too," Kenny said. "This was a great first test to seeing the kind of team we can be. Winning this gives us great confidence going forward. If we're able to beat them, we're able to beat anyone."
The Warriors had ample reason to believe it wasn't their night, beyond the programs' history.
Willowbrook (3-0) lost an early four-point lead in the first set, and nearly let a 20-13 advantage in the second set slip away. A delay of game whistle went against the Warriors, gifting Lyons (4-1) a point to draw within 24-23. Willowbrook overcame that with Kenny's kill off a block at set point, but then Lyons rolled off the first six points of the third.
"After the first six points, they were all unforced errors, I was like 'Guys, we have nothing to lose right now, give it our all, stay aggressive,'" Kenny said. "If we hit the ball out, we hit the ball out. But go up there confident."
Kenny practiced what she preached, with kills for Willowbrook's first three points of the set. She had two more after two by her sister, Louisville recruit Hannah Kenny, to close the Warriors within 12-9. Calli Kenny's dig set up an Anna Marinier kill to tie it at 14-14, and Calli Kenny's off-balance kill that clipped the net gave Willowbrook the lead for good at 16-15.
Kenny had six kills during an 8-1 run that turned a 15-15 tie into a commanding 23-16 lead. Fittingly, she threw down match point.
"She just has a takeover mentality. When she's locked in and ready to go, it's hard to stop her," Willowbrook coach Irene Mason said. "She's an outstanding athlete and an amazing volleyball player and she shows it night after night. It's nice to have her sister serving her beautiful balls, too."
Lyons, meanwhile, has a number of good players, with five starters back from a 30-win team, led by George Washington recruit Abby Markworth at setter.
But the Lions are still searching for the alpha go-to hitter they had last year in Kamryn Lee-Caracci, now at Georgetown.
It's only August, so there's time to find it, but it shows in matches like Wednesday's.
"We certainly have a very balanced offense, and Abby is doing a wonderful job of pushing, but we don't have the terminator we had last year," Lyons coach Jill Bober said. "We can get there. We have all the pieces, it's just finding that consistency. I'm OK to be on that roller coaster ride in August."
Bober referred to that roller coaster theme one more than one occasion.
Grace Turner had four kills and a block, Anabelle Montgomery two kills and Sienna Olson the kill at set point in the first. But the Lions hit a lull midway through the second set and couldn't match Kenny's transcendent play in the third.
"It was a series of roller coasters," Bober said. "Perhaps you can see it on both sides, but our dips were a little more aggressive perhaps than Willowbrook."
Willowbrook volleyball has won a combined 73 matches the last two seasons, reaching a supersectional in 2021 and sectional final last season.
But the history between the two programs wasn't lost on Mason, either.
"We haven't beaten them since I've been around, and I started at Willowbrook in 2012," Mason said. "I knew that in the back of my mind and I made sure the girls did, too. We want to do great things this year. This is a great opportunity to show what we can do and the fight we have."
Calli Kenny laughed at the mention of the standard she's set at Willowbrook, but her ultimate goals are no laughing matter.
"Sophomore year, we were one game away from state," Kenny said. "We just want to really get to the point where we're at Redbird Arena."