2016 Regional Champs!!
Naperville Sun Article about the match
Sara Nielsen's setting isn't just what sets the Benet senior apart.
Just ask Redwings coach Brad Baker, who wouldn't mind seeing Nielsen use her height and call her own number more.
"You go as your setter goes," he said. "If Sara can become an attacker herself, it just helps the offense. We continue to push her to do more of that."
Nielsen set the table Thursday, but the 6-foot Minnesota recruit also cleaned up. Her early offense sparked the second-seeded Redwings past the seventh-seeded host Indians 25-13, 25-10 in the Class 4A Lemont Regional final.
Nielsen had 23 assists to help Benet (32-5) to its 10th straight regional title. She also had three kills and three blocks.Her top hitter, senior Veronica Snelling, knows that next-level size for a setter will serve her well.
"She's physical," said Snelling, who's a Missouri State recruit. "There's a reason why she's going to play in the Big Ten. She definitely can play with those people in that conference, and she proved it again (Thursday)."
Snelling added 13 kills in 16 attempts, Lilly Johnson had three kills, and Minnesota-bound libero Lauren Barnes added 10 digs for Benet, which advanced to a 6:30 p.m. Tuesday sectional semifinal at Marist against the host RedHawks.
Benet beat Marist twice during the regular season, both in two games, the last match in Lisle a week ago.
"Beating a team three times is always a really difficult challenge, especially when it's a team like Marist," Nielsen said. "We're just looking to focus on our game as much as we can, and hopefully it works out."
Lemont stayed within striking distance of Benet early with its blocking, but Nielsen loosened things up.
At 7-5 in Game 1, she dropped a nifty two-handed dump into an opening on the other side and did it again later in the game. Nielsen found another hole in the Lemont defense in the second game.
When it wasn't that touch and timing, Nielsen showcased the power with three blocks at the net.
"We were trying to open up some from the outside," Nielsen said. "I try to look to the other side in the middle of the court to see if there's an open shot, just go with the flow of the play. If they're out of rhythm, I might try it."
That's the kind of feel that comes with an experienced setter, and Nielsen is it. Thursday marked her 14th playoff start.
"I'm pretty sure she's played in more matches than any setter in the state right now," Baker said. "It's definitely an advantage to have her on the team."
Nielsen's third block netted Benet game point, and her tag-team partner since the sixth grade took over from there. Snelling had seven kills in Game 2, smashing a kill off the block for match point.
"Sara was giving me great sets, and I was just putting it away for my teammates," Snelling said. "We knew Lemont was better than they showed in the first game, and we had to keep up our intensity."
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