NORMAL – Stepping onto the podium to accept her first-place medal, St. Francis senior libero Sam Dubiel, with a big smile on her face, threw her arms in the air to celebrate.
Her St. Francis teammates wore smiles just as bright as they waited to receive the Class 3A state trophy and the program’s 10th overall state championship after their 25-19, 25-7 win against LaSalle-Peru on Saturday at Redbird Arena. The consecutive Class 3A state titles are part of an impressive run that has seen the Spartans go 76-8 the past two seasons.
“It’s quite the experience and I couldn’t ask for a better team to have this experience with,” the Florida-bound Dubiel said. “Every year is a new year. The feeling is different from last year. It makes me speechless.”
While it would be easy to try to compare the two title teams, the Spartans preferred embracing the uniqueness of each while appreciating the moment.
“It’s been a really emotional couple years for me because my sister [Megan] died at the beginning of last year,” junior middle blocker Mary Boken said. “So the team has really grown together emotionally and more than volleyball, we all help each other with the other parts, too. It means even more to me winning these two state championships than it would have otherwise with another team.”
Saturday’s state title was a fitting way for the careers of five seniors to end. It was especially satisfying for sisters Maddie and Molly Haggerty. Although an injury ended Maddie’s senior season early, she had an opportunity to experience the milestone with Molly, a sophomore.
“I’m really proud of her and it’s really nice to win two with her and one with our other sister [Meghan] so we can all reminisce on it together,” said Maddie Haggerty, a Nebraska recruit.
After the win against LaSalle-Peru, St. Francis coach Peg Kopec took time to credit “unrecognized people” for their contributions, including senior setter Natalie Murison. An Alabama commit, Murison will be a defensive specialist for the Crimson Tide and despite not setting for her club team or St. Francis last year, the senior never complained about taking on the new role for the Spartans this season.
“That’s a lot of pressure to come in and do something, somebody that touches the ball as much as a setter does,” Kopec said of Murison. “It’s kind of like the quarterback – you’re the goat or the hero if you’re not getting the ball to people. … I think she’s a little bit of an unsung hero here.”
Murison had 19 total assists during the state finals and finished the season with 403 assists along with 149 digs. Murison’s willingness to step up when needed perfectly represented the Spartans amid a season of overcoming various injuries.
“In the beginning of the season they kind of told me to work on setting because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Murison said. “But I was willing to do anything to help the team. … They needed me there.”