NORMAL – Breese Central learned the hard way during Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal how hard it is to rally against the St. Francis girls volleyball team.
The Spartans twice built early leads against the Cougars, and while Breese was able to fight back in Game 1, the St. Louis area opponent was no match for St. Francis and its offensive firepower. The Spartans advanced to today's Class 3A state final with a 25-20, 25-10 win against Breese.
The Spartans (38-3) have an opportunity to win their second consecutive Class 3A title and 10th overall state title when they play LaSalle-Peru at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Approaching an appearance in yet another state final match, St. Francis coach Peg Kopec "not on your life" does competing for a title get old.
"I feel blessed and fortunate every time that we're able to return to Normal," Kopec said. " ... I am very proud of these girls. I thought we played great defense."
St. Francis controlled much of the match, especially throughout a dominating effort in Game 2. The Spartans set the tone early, taking a 7-2 lead to open Game 1, aided by scoring the first five points of the match. However, Breese (35-6) rallied to tie that game at 8 largely due to the Spartans’ four consecutive unforced errors during the Cougars’ 5-1 run. Consecutive kills by freshman Kamryn Malloy tilted the lead to the Spartans, who would not trail the rest of the match.
"This has been a season-long problem in the second set," Breese coach Jim Cook said. "We always seem to start out with our passing going bad and then our offense can't get going. You certainly can't play a team like [St. Francis] without our offense going."
St. Francis never gave Breese a chance to contend in Game 2. Led by Clemson-bound junior middle hitter Mary Boken (team-high nine kills), the Spartans quickly built an 18-5 lead en route to a dominating Game 2 win that featured only two St. Francis unforced errors.
"I think in the first game we were still getting our nerves out and we were obviously ready to play; we had really tough competition this whole year," Boken said. "We're prepared, and we have the physical talent to do it. In the second game, I think we just put into action better than we did in the first game."
Malloy (six kills) and sophomore outside hitter Molly Haggerty (four kills) presented a tough matchup for Breese throughout the match. The Spartans' blocking often thwarted the Cougars' hitters as St. Francis finished with eight team blocks while Breese failed to cleanly block a Spartans attempt.
The Spartans have now won each of their past four postseason matches in two games, including a supersectional win last weekend that took little more than 30 minutes to complete.
Asked if St. Francis goes into a match expecting to dominate, Kopec said, "We're confident in our preparation." However, Kopec made clear that the program's previous state experience is unique to each respective team.
Today, they can deliver the 10th state title in school history, all under Kopec.
"We have a deal, this is team 13," Kopec said. "Team 12, thank you very much, but it's what have you done for us lately? And this is their team."