Lemont threw some pretty good defense against Benet in Thursday’s Class 4A sectional final at Neuqua Valley.
“They’re in the sectional final for a reason,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “They play great defense, not just good. They’re a great defensive team. They make you earn points. Which we did.”
Benet earned points in bunches Tuesday, using a 16-5 run in Game 1 to pull away from a 5-5 tie and closing Game 2 on a 15-5 run to advance to Saturday’s supersectional at Normal Community West with a 25-14, 25-15 victory.
Cara Mattaliano led the Redwings (37-2) with 10 kills and 10 digs, Hannah Kaminsky added 25 assists, 6-foot-3 junior middle Brittany Pavich contributed six kills and an ace, and Nicki Barnes had five kills and three aces.
Kiley Rendak paced Lemont (26-13) with five kills and Cara Howell, Kelly Ferguson and Ali Lund each had four. Megan Litoborski contributed 14 assists for the Indians, who made Benet work for everything they got.
“That was the best defensive game I’ve ever seen us play,” Lemont coach Chris Zogata said. “The girls played so hard on defense. Just the fact that we stayed in rallies defensively was awesome. We really were going to make them earn every point.
“It’s very hard with their size and our size to match up,” she added. “You just try to keep in it defensively, serve tough and do the best you can.”
Ferguson’s kill had Lemont even at 5-5 early in Game 1 when a Pavich slam from the pin, back-to-back aces by Barnes and a block by Kaminsky allowed Benet to open up a 10-5 lead.
Pavich, 6-3 sophomore Rachael Fara and 5-11 senior middle Abby Willett combined for nine kills in Game 1, but in Game 2 Kaminsky rediscovered Mattaliano on the outside. The 6-1 senior did not disappoint, pounding six kills as part of 10-2 run that broke a 10-10 tie.
“The coaches really emphasize with me that if a player is hot to keep going to them,” Kaminsky said. “It clicked in my head that Cara was getting a kill every time she got the ball, so I kept going to her.”
Most teams have trouble matching up with Benet’s middles, but at 6-1, Mattaliano was another matchup problem for Lemont.
“What are you to do against them?” Zogata said. “They’re a small collegiate volleyball team.”
The sectional championship was the fourth in six years for Benet, but the Redwings have lost in the supersectional twice during that span.
“We know we have to work hard, we know we have to get on the floor and we know we have to pound the ball,” Mattaliano said. “Tonight, they (Lemont) were picking everything up. We just had to think of new shots and hit it harder, hit it to different places and just stay in the game.”
The supersectional appearance will be the first for Mattaliano, Willett, Fara and Barnes, who did not suit up during Benet’s run to the 2011 state title.
“It’s awesome,” Mattaliano said. “Any time you’re in the supersectional, it’s amazing. We want to keep going.”