Daily Herald by Josh Welge
It wasn’t exactly the start Benet’s girls had in mind.
Turns out, it didn’t bother them a bit.
The No. 1-ranked Redwings dug an early 12-5 first-set hole against No. 6 Naperville Central in Thursday’s Class 4A Naperville Central regional final but had all the answers after that in a 25-18, 25-20 win.
Early-match jitters? Perhaps. Shaken confidence? Never.
“We never doubted ourselves,” said Benet senior libero Sheila Doyle, who had 11 digs. “It was our first good, tough match in the playoffs, and on their home court. It was overwhelming at first, but it was impressive how we stayed composed. We showed how tough we are mentally.”
Benet (35-2), which advances to play West Aurora in a Tuesday sectional semifinal at Neuqua Valley, gave Naperville Central (28-9) 7 of its first 11 points on unforced errors. A kill by Redhawks middle Phoebe Havenaar made it 12-5, and triggered a Benet timeout.
Out of the break the Redwings snapped off a 12-2 run and were in control from there. Cara Mattaliano had 5 of her 11 kills during that stretch, Brittany Pavich 2 and Rachael Fara and Nicki Barnes 1 each.
“It was 12-5, but looking at the kids they didn’t look worried,” Benet coach Brad Baker said. “We knew we had a run in us.”
Benet also had the confidence of a team that has had the upper hand in the rivalry of late. The Redwings have won the last eight meetings against Naperville Central, their last loss in the 2007 playoffs. Benet twice beat the Redhawks during this regular season without dropping a set.
A pair of Hannah Kaminsky aces touched off an 8-2 start to the second set. It got to 19-12 before Naperville Central mounted a late rally. The Redhawks got to within 23-19, but Kaminsky answered with a two-hand blind bump and fed Pavich for a quick hitter at match point.
“They have fresh history on their side. I think when they got down they still felt comfortable,” Redhawks coach Brie Isaacson said. “Momentum is one of the biggest things in volleyball. We lost the momentum and we didn’t catch it again until late in the second set.”
The familiarity between the two teams seemed to help Benet, particularly with its strategy serving. Naperville Central’s big hitters were a concern of Baker, but they couldn’t get going without a spot-on first pass.
“They changed their lineup coming into this regional and then did again tonight,” Baker said, “but we had a specific game plan with every rotation who we were serving to. If we didn’t, it was a mistake.”
Pavich had 6 kills, Nicki Barnes 4 and sophomore Rachael Fara 4 for Benet. When the Redwings needed a point, it seemed like it could run its middles Pavich and Fara at will. Pavich had a pair of kills sandwiched around an Alysia Baznik kill for the Redhawks to stem a late Naperville Central rally.
“Brittany and Rachael are amazing middles. I have so much confidence in them,” said Benet setter Kaminsky, who had 25 assists. “I can’t believe how far they have come this year.”
Baznik had 4 kills and a block, Sammy Condon 5 kills and Connors 3 kills and 2 blocks. Those are three of Isaacson’s nine seniors, Baznik and Condon four-year starters.
Playing Benet in a regional final, part of a controversial sectional shakeup, was probably still a bitter pill tough to swallow.
“What’s sad is that kids have worked so hard — they are the ones who lost out on the opportunity,” Isaacson said. “To have to play Benet in a regional final, forget all the other people involved, it’s unfair to the athletes playing the game. But my kids, they fought hard from the first point to the 50th. To me that’s what I will remember, not the loss.”