Two great teams. Two great crowds. But just one Molly Haggerty.
A packed house at Bolingbrook High School Saturday afternoon saw Benet and St. Francis -- each a defending state champion -- play superb volleyball for three tight sets before the Spartans eventually claimed the Class 4A supersectional 21-25, 25-22, 25-22. With the win the 37-3 Spartans advance to the state semifinals next Friday against Cary-Grove.
After three straight Class 3A titles St. Francis will be looking to make history with four straight championships and a first 4A one for the Wheaton school.
"We're real excited about state," said St. Francis setter Dani Messa, who had 30 assists and 6 kills of her own. "Obviously, we've been there before, but it's a different team every year. The girls are different and it's a new environment. So we're real excited we get to go again."
While a number of players have come and gone over the last four years, outside hitter Molly Haggerty has started the last four years and is looking to cap off a brilliant senior season with a fourth state title next weekend. Against Benet, which had its three-year, state-trophy run come to a close, Haggerty delivered a match-high 22 kills but also shone on defense with 12 digs.
Redwings coach Brad Baker could only tip his hat after his girls played great and still came up just short of another trip to Illinois State's Redbird Arena.
"It was a great game, it really was," he said. "The reality was at the end Molly took it over. Sometimes you can have the best game plan and the kids can do all the right plays and they got a kid that's just bigger, stronger, faster and there's nothing you can do."
But the Redwings, who finished 37-3 this season and reached the Elite Eight after claiming a pair of state titles and a runner-up finish the last three years, gave it their all. Benet stormed out to a 9-3 lead in the opener following a block from Gretchen Rudel and then led 19-9 following a kill by Lina Lietuvninkas. The Spartans did close the gap late, but a Veronica Snelling kill gave the opener to Benet.
The next two sets were tight throughout, with solid defense leading to several long rallies and well-earned points. With the second set tied at 21, Haggerty recorded one kill and Kamryn Malloy two as the Spartans drew even in the match and set up a classic, decisive third set.
The finale featured nine ties early -- including 12-12, before the Redwings opened up 3-point leads of 17-14 and 19-16. But that's when Haggerty and her teammates came up big, starting with a combo block from Cat Wilson and Alexia Byrnes that tied the game at 20-20.
Down the stretch Messa made a great off-balance set that Haggerty powered down for a 22-20 lead and the Daily Herald All-Area team captain later slammed kills down the left sideline for her team's 23rd and 24th points en route the big victory.
"I think we knew coming into this game it was going to be big match, I mean 3A state champs versus 4A state champs," said Haggerty, whose older sister Maddie won state titles at both Benet and St. Francis. "So we knew there was a lot of pressure on us, but I thought we did really well as a team and kept our composure even though we lost in the first set. We just fought back the whole game and point after point, we stayed together as a team and it really showed."
Snelling paced Benet with 15 kills while Tiffany Clark closed out her stellar senior season with 12 kills and 11 digs for the Redwings. Junior setter Sara Nielsen had 41 assists in the match.