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Prep girls volleyball insider: St. Francis ready for Asics Challenge

Junior Mary Boken and the St. Francis girls volleyball team have lost just twice this season, falling to fellow power Mother McAuley both times.
Junior Mary Boken and the St. Francis girls volleyball team have lost just twice this season, falling to fellow power Mother McAuley both times.

St. Francis reeled off 21 straight wins between losses to perennial power Mother McAuley – first in the season opener, then in Saturday’s Rich East tournament final.

If another lengthy streak is in the cards for the defending 3A state champs, the Spartans likely would have to exorcise their struggles against the Mighty Macs. Both teams are part of a formidable field at this weekend’s Asics Challenge at Mother McAuley.

“Oh my gosh, it’s one of the top tournaments in the nation,” Spartans coach Peg Kopec said. “There’s an awful lot of good teams. You’ll see so many ranked teams it’s unbelievable.”

St. Francis, ranked 10th in last week’s national poll, is set to face Joliet Catholic and Pius XI (Milwaukee) in pool play Friday night.

The final is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Louisville (Ky.) Assumption won last year’s title.

Batavia in dogged pursuit of top teams

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the number of fights in the ‘Dogs.

With apologies to the familiar expression, Batavia has put its own spin on things by loading its schedule with strong nonconference opponents such as St. Francis, Benet and Providence to augment a tough slate in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.

One reason the Bulldogs prevailed in Tuesday’s three-game thriller at Larkin, coach Lori Trippi-Payne said, was their recent history of tests, whether the team aced them or not.

Challenging highly-touted Royals hitters Olivia Kofie and Brianna Stewart helped, too.

“Larkin has a lot of experience, too, but I just think experience against top teams pulled us through,” Trippi-Payne said. “Olivia Kofie, she’s the real thing. Brianna Stewart, she’s the real thing. But we’ve seen a lot of great players this year, so I think that we were able to make adjustments offensively and defensively based on the experiences of the past and some of the other matches we’ve played.”

Royal strides

Giving three freshmen significant playing time prompts Rosary coach Rachel Hartmann to treat the team’s development with patience.

“It’s starting to happen,” Hartmann said, “but it’s just going to take time.”

Libero Martha Konovodoff and classmates Erin Burke (outside hitter) and Julia Gauthier (right-side) have been Royals’ lineup fixtures in a bid to conquer the learning curve needed to adjust to the speed of varsity matches.

Rosary (9-16) entered the season with experience concerns, carrying eight juniors and two seniors.

“I’m telling them I think they’re all good volleyball players no matter what lineup is out there,” Hartmann said. “I think they’re going to be a good team. So it’s just finding a rhythm with the rotations and learning how to win.”

– Kevin Druley,


Ellie Dunn
Kaneland, Jr., OH
What she did:
Dunn kept Kaneland close in Wednesday’s home match against Geneva, contributing 19 kills, 12 digs and seven blocks in an eventual three-game loss.

Heather Meyer
Batavia, Sr., OH
What she did:
Meyer earned all-tournament team honors over the weekend at the Waubonsie Valley Warrior Blast, paving the way for Tuesday’s 18-kill effort in a three-game win at Larkin.

Rosary earned bragging rights in the first leg of the Battle of Edgelawn. Last week’s home victory against Aurora Central Catholic boosted the Royals to a Suburban Christian Conference victory. The teams meet up the street at ACC for an Oct. 23 rematch.

More about positioning in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division race. Although Batavia is idle Tuesday, Tri-Cities counterparts St. Charles East (at Elgin), St. Charles North (vs. Larkin) and Geneva (vs. Streamwood) all are in action in the latest installment of a title push that figures to go down to the wire.

Kaneland has hovered around .500 throughout coach Kerri McCastland’s debut season, but a new-look postseason path might just be the ticket for a playoff run.

Sent south to Sandwich for regionals – in a different part of the bracket than streaking Burlington Central – the Knights will vie for the crown with Northern Illinois Big 12 East foes Rochelle and Sycamore, but still have to like a change of scenery.

You can respond at blogs/sly.

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