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St. Francis volleyball keeps its cool, beats Joliet Catholic in thriller

GLEN ELLYN – As impressive as any blistering kill or wicked serve Thursday night were moments of composure, especially late in the third game of a memorable IHSA Class 3A Glenbard South Sectional championship match between St. Francis and Joliet Catholic.

With both teams fighting off match points amid a growing din in the jam-packed gymnasium, maintaining poise might have been the night’s most difficult assignment on both sides of the net.

“After every point, I just cleared my head for a restart,” St. Francis junior Kristin Acciavatti said. “Every serve is a new point, a new ball and you just have to take it. You can’t think about the old plays, you can’t think of the future, you just have to take what you’re given.”

That clear-headed equilibrium served Acciavatti well. It was her kill that finally punctured an almost suffocating layer of suspense as the Spartans defeated the Angels, 25-15, 24-26, 30-28. St. Francis advances to Saturday’s Chicago Christian Supersectional where it will face host Chicago Christian for a berth in next weekend’s Class 3A state semifinals.

It looked for an instant like Acciavatti’s final kill would drop without question but, on a night when there were few easy points, Angels standout Morgan Reardon nearly mustered an improbable, off-balance return, but the ball nicked a fixture attached to the ceiling, and the Spartans (34-5) prevailed.

Acciavatti played more than usual on Thursday as veteran St. Francis coach Peg Kopec tinkered with her lineup for the program’s seventh straight postseason showdown with rival powerhouse Joliet Catholic.

“You never know when your number’s going to get called,” Acciavatti said. “When my number got called, I was like it’s my time, I have to prove myself, because I haven’t been given that opportunity as much as I hoped I would.”

Kopec was glad Acciavatti backed up the move, serving as a worthy complement to standouts Molly Haggerty (16 kills), Maddie Haggerty (12 kills) and junior Becca Shearer (eight kills, three blocks).

“Kristin Acciavatti hasn’t played that much this year,” Kopec said. “To step up and play the match that she did was incredible. She was fabulous. Molly certainly didn’t look like a freshman, and thank God we have a senior setter running the show.”

That setter is McKenna Kelsay, who dished 30 assists and notched a key block to draw the Spartans within 23-all in Game 3.

An Acciavatti kill gave the Spartans a match point at 24-23, but Joliet Catholic won the next two points to send St. Francis to the brink of elimination.

The Spartans fended off a pair of match points, eventually going ahead 29-28 on a Maddie Haggerty kill before Acciavatti ended the drama moments later.

Early on, it looked like St. Francis might have a much easier night. Shearer sparkled in Game 1 as the Spartans cruised to a 25-15 win.

“We knew we’d have to come out strong because we knew they were a good team, too, and they would want this as much as we did,” Shearer said.

Joliet Catholic coach Christine Scheibe was proud of how her team overcame its size disadvantage against the Haggerty sisters as the match unfolded.

“I reminded them about two years ago when we lost even worse in Game 1, and then we came back and were able to put Games 2 and 3 away,” said Scheibe, whose team beat St. Francis in three games during the regular season. “We were just trying to put Game 1 behind us and come out and play the kind of volleyball we knew how.”

A controversial deflection call in the Spartans’ favor allowed St. Francis to tie the second game at 23 and a subsequent Molly Haggerty kill on the line gave the Spartans a match point, but the Angels (32-7) won the last three points of Game 2 to force a rubber game.

After such an emotional triumph, St. Francis must somehow collect itself and refocus for Saturday’s match against a fellow Suburban Christian Conference member.

“I think we’re going to be a little hyped up for a few days about this,” Maddie Haggerty said. “It’s definitely going to take a little bit to come down from this, but that’s what we have to do.”

Kopec, ever the taskmaster, grinned when asked how the Spartans could regroup at practice today.

“I can do that,” she said.

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