Minooka barely broke a sweat reaching Saturday’s finals of the Crosstown Showdown at Plainfield North.
Maybe it was too easy.
Marist, ranked No. 3 in illprepvb.com’s preseason rankings, bounced back from an opening-game loss to shock the state’s No. 1-ranked team 20-25, 25-15, 25-18.
Memphis-bound Molly Murrihy led the way with 39 assists and 3 blocks, Savannah Thompson had 16 kills and 10 digs, and 6-foot-1 sophomore rightside hitter Camryn Jordan added 13 kills and 3 blocks as Marist improved to 6-0.
“Minooka was one of the best teams we could have ever asked to play (in the championship match),” Murrihy said. “We were so excited for this game. We knew it would be competitive. We’re really happy with the way it turned out.”
Minooka (5-1) broke a 6-6 tie in the first game with a 13-7 run and won on a kill by Allison Papesh. But the RedHawks countered with a 16-7 run to break a 4-4 tie in the second set, fueled by the outstanding play of 6-foot-1 sophomore rightside Camryn Hannah.
“Camryn played amazing,” Murrihy said. “She was phenomenal.”
Murrihy said the RedHawks were not discouraged by the first-set loss.
“We just really wanted it,” Murrihy said. “We realized we were really close in the first game and told ourselves we can take the second and third sets. We have been working really hard practice, pushing ourselves. We knew that this (Minooka) was a team that we could take on.”
Marist picked up where it left off at the end of the second set, building an 18-12 advantage in the third on a kill by Maggie Meyer. A Papesh kill got the Indians to within 21-17, but Mattie McCabe ended the drama with a tool off the block at 24-18.
“Everyone was asking me to set them,” Murrihy said. “They all wanted to be part of it. They all wanted to contribute.”
Grace Green had 16 digs for Marist.
“We felt like we played well the first game, it just took us until the second to get used to their pace that they bring on the swings,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “It's something we know is there, but when you don't play it for four matches it takes a while to adjust on defense.
“We were ready for the first game, there were just a couple of lose points,” he added. “In the second game, we started making saves on defense and just kept ball alive. We started putting more pressure on them. We really stepped it up to shrink the court on them.”
Papesh led Minooka (5-1) with 15 kills, Raquel Perinar added 12 kills, sophomore Zoey Seput contributed 30 assists and Taylor Baranski had 18 digs.
“I don't like to lose, the girls don't like to lose, but this is a good learning experience,” Minooka coach Carrie Prosek said. “We almost played a little scared in the second game. We couldn't get serves in at crunch time, our passing was not great. Our hitters started playing scared.
“It’s just a mental thing,” the coach added. “I know that they're not happy. I don't think they want to do that again. It’s kind of good now. Now we know what we need to work on the rest of the year.”
Lincoln-Way Central (5-1) won the Silver Division, defeating Lockport 25-19, 23-25, 25-18. Kylie Kulinski led the Knights with 11 kills, Cassidy Wyman added 8 kills and 14 assists, Hannah Stacy had 6 kills and Lucy Chesla had 11 digs.
“We don't have any big go-to hitters,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Mary Brown said. “We have to be smart. We’re not going to beat anybody with brawn. It's got a be all brains. Hart’s our goal. To be to be a hustle team, to be a scrappy team.”
Lockport (4-2), which beat Lemont 26-24, 23-25, 25-13 in the Silver semifinals, got 8 kills from JoDee Kovanda, 7 kills from Morgan Schmutzler, 14 assists from Hannah Pacheco and 4 aces from Shae O’Neil.
“We found the energy in the second set,” Lockport coach Nick Mraz said. “They came out excited. But then we ended up hitting negative in the third set. When you can't put the ball down on the court … that killed us, and we got stuck in some rotations because of it.”
Sarah Kushner is bigger, stronger, faster, more experienced, a better defender and an even better passer than she was last year as a sophomore. That can only mean even more bad news for Naperville North opponents in 2017.
Kushner put the whole arsenal on display Wednesday against Kaneland in both teams’ tournament opener at the Falcon Classic hosted by Wheaton North. The 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter had 7 kills, a couple of blocks and 7 digs to lead the Huskies to a 25-12, 25-20 victory.
Six of Kushner’s kills came in Game 1 and four were part of an 9-1 run that allowed Naperville North (1-0) to extend a 12-7 lead.
“This is her third year on varsity and she brings a wealth of experience on the court,” Naperville North coach Jen Urban said. “She's always played at a really high club level and consistently got better during the off-season.
“This year, she comes in a lot more physical and has a lot more strategy behind her game, which is great to see,” the coach added.
Kushner credits a lot of her success to her teammates, including seven seniors who were an integral part of last year’s 23-14 team.
“I have had really good leaders as I have gone through the Huskie program, so I really feel comfortable on the court,” she said. “All my teammates are talking to me and making me feel comfortable. I'm playing with all my heart, as is everyone else.
“We have a really big group of seniors who are really knowledgeable, I will say ‘wise’ volleyball players on our team,” Kushner added. “We have only two or three new people on the varsity, so it's the same group of girls that we had last year.”
Although she may be better known for her offensive prowess. Kushner spent a great deal of time during the offseason improving other aspects of her game.
“My passing and defense are the biggest improvements I have made,” she said. “I worked on them a lot during the club season. I know that's really important here because without passing you can't set up our offense.”
Kushner was by no means the entire show Wednesday. Junior rightside hitter Kayla Griesbach added 6 kills and 4 digs, senior Ariana Budnik had 3 kills and 7 digs and junior setter Grace Selman contributed 10 assists and 9 digs.
“We have a lot of heart,” Kushner said. “Every practice, we’re working our hardest. We never give up on a play. We’re playing for each other, not ourselves. We work a lot playing as a team. That’s really going to help us go far this season.”
Kaneland (1-1), which lost most of its starters from the team that won the Falcon Classic last year and reached the Class 3A sectional finals, might find the going a little tougher this season after being bumped up to Class 4A.
Katie Jablonski, a 5-10 junior outside hitter, had 3 kills, 1 assists and 5 digs for the Knights, who have only three seniors on its 13-player roster.
“We had more serving errors and a couple of hitting errors in Game 2, but that something we can clean up and it’s part of being young,” Kaneland coach Cyndi Violett said. “We’ll get there. Some of Game 1 was jitters, and some of it is just still gelling and figuring each other out and playing together.
“It’s still early in the season to get going as a team,” she added. “I do like the fact that they have that ‘don’t give up’ attitude. They don't let things get to them. They let things roll off their shoulders and play the next point.”
You got a feeling things would not go well for Hinsdale South when their announcer mistakenly introduced them as the “Riverside-Brookfield Bulldogs” prior to Monday’shome opener against Marist.
Savannah Thompson had 8 kills, 2 aces and a block to lead Illprepvb.com’s No. 3-ranked Marist past the Hornets 25-11, 25-20 Monday in Darien.
Thompson, a 5-foot-10 senior and two-year starter who is committed to Central Michigan, dominated the first set as the RedHawks raced to a 21-8 lead.
“Honestly, this is a group of girls who really have a lot of drive and focus,” Thompson said. “I see it every day in practice. It's awesome going into the gym every day with girls who are working toward the same goal. That's something that really shows on the court.”
Thompson said the RedHawks are using last year’s 25-20, 25-22 sectional final loss to eventual national champion Mother McAuley as motivation.
“Toward end of last year, we really started to see where we could take this team,” she said. “If anything, that's what's really pushing us this year … knowing that we were so close last year. It might be the mental game that takes us where we want to go.
“The end was rough last year, but the few games we had going up to the last game showed us the potential we have is really through the roof.”
Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said Thompson’s toughness, athleticism and experience set her apart from a lot of players around the state.
“You saw her sit back there and make a couple of great digs in the back row,” he said. “She is starting to make things look a lot easier. That's the sign of a really good player. They can make things look really easy and look smooth doing it.”
Thompson sat out Game 2 against Hinsdale South as Vidovic wants to take no chances with his star outside hitter.
“She was feeling it physically a little bit today with her arm,” he said. “We just want to be careful. But you can still see she brings the power and she’s somebody we can rely on all year for those little things.”
Marist’s 6-foot setter and three-year starter Molly Murrihy added 20 assists and 2 aces and showed why she is heading to Memphis in the fall.
“We have really high expectations, high hopes for her,” Vidovic said. “Physically with her size she can do lot. She sets from really high and is able to open up our hitters and make our hitters look better. That's something we’re working pretty hard on.
“As we go and get some game experience, our offense will show a little bit more,” he added. “You didn't really see it tonight. It’s something we think we can be really fast.”
On the other side of the court, Hinsdale South rookie coach Alison Balmer (known as Ali Rook during her playing days at Naperville North) was not unhappy with her team’s performance. The Hornets held their own in Game 2 and were within 17-15 before Marist eased away.
“Marist is a great team,” she said. “That’s a difficult team to open up against. Their setter is phenomenal. She runs the court really well. It's nice to be able to run a 5-1. It speeds the game up a little bit.”
Hinsdale South got 3 kills apiece from sophomores Kaitlyn Hurka and Mia Lombardo, 6 assists from junior Abigail Mihalkanin, and 2 kills apiece from 6-1 senior Tierney Ward and junior Claire Zipsie.
“There are things to learn from it,” Balmer said. “The first game was a little rough. But we came back. There some things we definitely know we have to work on, improve upon. Overall, just take it with a grain of salt. Think about it for little bit and then it's over.”