NORMAL – The Class 4A state volleyball tournament is often a minefield for first-time qualifiers.
Even extremely talented teams succumb to the pressure of competing under the bright lights of the big stage in the final four.
St. Charles North discovered that the hard way Friday.
After beating a number of quality teams in the playoffs to land the program’s first state appearance, the North Stars ran into a buzzsaw at Redbird Arena.
Minooka simply had too much height, too much talent, too much depth and, most importantly, too much state experience. Returning nearly their entire starting lineup from last season’s state runner-up team, the Indians steamrolled the North Stars with a 25-20, 25-12 victory in the first 4A semifinal.
The North Stars (36-4) suffered their first defeat since Sept. 16 against Downers Grove North. They reeled off 22 straight wins until running into Minooka’s formidable team. St. Charles North, though, has an opportunity to end its season with a win in Saturday’s third-place game against Crystal Lake Central at 7:25 p.m.
"We walked off the floor [Friday] and said, 'That's an amazing team,'" St. Charles North coach Lindsey Hawkins said. "We hope to cheer them onto a win, and said, 'Let's go get third.' They are hungry and not satisfied."
Gianna Crescenzo paced the North Stars’ attack with seven kills to go with six digs and two aces, while Katie Lanz mustered five kills, nine assists and five digs.
Last season, Minooka lost to state powerhouse Mother McAuley, the No.1 team in the nation at the time, in the 4A final. Hawkins acknowledged the experience of playing at state should help her team next season, particularly junior outside hitters Lanz and Crescenzo.
“We have two really solid players coming back [next season] and now they have some experience under their belts, and now got that loss to fire them up,” Hawkins said. “Both of them going forward are going to keep at it, and hopefully ride the wave we started this year and make it next year.”
For Minooka (39-2), 6-foot-1 Samantha Hermann (Ferris State recruit), 6-2 Holly Bonde (Kansas State), 6-1 Allison Papesh (Dayton) and 6-foot Raquel Perinar (Tennessee) put on a powerful show, pounding balls down for kills and frustrating the North Stars with their blocks.
As a team, the Indians, ranked 22nd nationally by PrepVolleyball.com, tallied 31 kills, with Perinar netting 12 and Bonde and Papesh each finishing with eight.
Many times, Lanz rose up for a potential kill, only to watch with frustration as the ball was returned with ease back over the net.
“I would go up to hit and thought I would have something open, then at the last minute, they would close it,” Lanz said. “They had a very good block. We haven’t played against a team that had that much height.”
There were some highlights for St.. Charles North. Crescenzo served up an ace for the first point of the match.
“I was just trying to hit my zones and start off the match strong," Crescenzo said, "and it gave me confidence to keep serving hard throughout the rest of the game."
The North Stars sliced a 20-13 Game 1 deficit to 23-20 following a block by Lanz and Kelly Jakaitis.
“It was exciting to be that close against such a good team,” Lanz said.