Girls volleyball: Benet repeats as Mizuno Cup champ There are many reasons why Benet Academy's volleyball team enjoys participating in the annual St. Charles East/Mizuno Cup.
Winning certainly helps.
After rallying from 8-1, 13-7 and 19-14 deficits to take the opening game from Geneva, the top-ranked Redwings (25-2) scored 4 of the last 5 points in the second game to earn a hard-fought 26-24, 26-24 victory in Saturday's Gold bracket championship match at the Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora.
"It's fun," Redwings coach Brad Baker said of his team's tournament title repeat. "The girls work hard. You've got to enjoy these moments when they happen. They're going to enjoy this one."
Both games were incredibly tight, with little things contributing for and against each team.
While No. 6 Geneva (24-3) committed 5 service errors in the opener, Benet junior Laura Keating recorded her second ace of the game to give the Redwings their first lead at 23-22.
After a kill by 6-foot-2 junior Grace Loberg (11 kills, 5 blocks) helped the Vikings tie the score at 24-24, a middle kill from senior Lauren Berta and a hitting error enabled the Redwings to squeak out a win.
The second game featured ties at 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 before a left-handed kill by junior outside hitter Veronica Snelling pushed Benet on top 25-24. A Geneva net violation sealed the match for the defending Class 4A state champion Redwings.
"We expected it to be 20-20 and to have to push and play hard," said Baker, whose teams have now won 5 of the last 6 tourney titles. "I thought both sides played well. We're not as physical as they are so we have to win the serve-serve receive battle or we have no chance."
Juniors Ally Barrett and Ally Mullen added 6 kills apiece for the Vikings, who reached the title match thanks to a 25-20, 25-27, 25-21 semifinal triumph over No. 3 Neuqua Valley (23-6).
"Service errors and a couple hitting errors here and there -- they add up against a team like Benet," said Geneva interim coach Jessica Anspach, filling in while head coach Annie Seitelman is on maternity leave. "We missed a couple execution points that could've put us in a better situation but overall I'm happy with how they played.
"When it's a 2-point game, it's anybody's game."
Junior outside hitter Gretchen Rudel paced the Redwings with 11 kills while senior teammate Tiffany Clark added 9 kills.
"There was definitely a lot of pressure on us going into this but we really embrace that," said Clark. "We work hard to have grace under pressure. We practice so much in competitive environments, trying to simulate everything."
"Anytime you can be in matches that are stressful like this, it helps," said Baker. "It's one of the reasons why we want to get in the championship (match) so we can feel the pressure and those stressful moments."
Geneva finished the weekend with a 4-1 mark.
"We were excited to see Benet," said Anspach. "We wanted to see Benet. It just didn't work out."