NORMAL – St. Francis left no doubt as to which was the superior girls volleyball team during Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A state final match.
The Spartans tried to celebrate all the milestones over the course of the season, which culminated Saturday with a celebration they had been playing toward all year. St. Francis convincingly handled LaSalle-Peru for its second consecutive Class 3A title with a 25-19, 25-7 win. The state title is St. Francis’ 10th overall in program history, making coach Peg Kopec the most championship-rich coach in state history. With Saturday’s state title victory, Kopec passed former Mother McAuley coach Nancy (Wichgers) Pedersen for most state titles.
“It’s pretty special, a nice achievement for this team,” Kopec said. “I think they had a lot of pressure on them throughout the season. We tried to take some off, but it’s pretty difficult. They’re very talented and people expected them to be here.”
The Spartans (39-3) had to fend off a feisty Cavs (35-4) squad, which battled back from an 8-3 deficit in Game 1. LaSalle-Peru tied the game four different times but St. Francis never trailed. Clinging to an 18-17 lead, St. Francis traded kills with L-P to maintain its lead. The Cavs, however, couldn’t pull any closer, committing three straight unforced errors. Two kills by sophomore outside hitter Molly Haggerty sealed the opening game win.
Haggerty and junior middle hitter Mary Boken were a dangerous combination and one that the Cavs struggled to stop. The duo each tallied seven kills to lead St. Francis.
“I think going out we didn’t know how they were going to play against us so in the second game we adjusted to how they were going to play and we focused on what we needed to do to play against them and give up as least points as possible,” Haggerty said. “And I think we did that.”
The Spartans didn’t let the Cavs have an opportunity to force a third game, with a dominating performance in Game 2. St. Francis seemed to effortlessly build a 17-5 lead as setters Danielle Messa (11 assists) and Natalie Murison (nine assists) spread the ball among the attackers. Twelve unforced errors only compounded the Cavs’ problems.
"It was feeling like a normal game for most of the game and then afterwards it really hit me," Boken said of winning a second consecutive state title. "It wasn't just winning that game that hits you. The whole season, all the accomplishments you had, your whole volleyball career – as a little girl you dream of winning a state championship."
Despite yet another state title, Kopec said it’s difficult to compare this year’s team to her previous state title winners.
“Every year is a different team,” Kopec said. “Different talent, different problems, a different set of circumstances so this is team 13 and this is their year. They’re all great.”