You cannot argue with Lilly Johnson’s logic.
When the 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter for No. 4-ranked Benet was asked why she chose Bradley University in downstate Peoria as her college destination, Johnson simply said, “No hurricanes.”
Johnson had the anemometer working overtime Wednesday, whistling 10 kills past St. Charles defenders to lead Benet to a 25-14, 25-20 victory in a matchup between two of the top five teams in the illprepvb.com rankings.
Confidence played a big part in the contest, Johnson said, particularly in the first set when the Redwings breezed to a 14-6 lead.
“Our team really had that confidence once we started beating them by a lot,” she said. “Being in system all the time and really focused, I think that really helps. We were getting perfect passes for perfect sets and I was able to put the ball down.”
Johnson has been on varsity for four years and served as understudy to a litany of outstanding outside hitters. She tries to emulate much of what she saw and learned from her predecessors.
“During practice, I think about the girls who came before me,” Johnson said. “They would hit this shot, they would do this. So I try to use that for me.”
“Since freshman year, all the seniors had that fighting mentality,” she added. “Last year, I had it, but not as much as I have it this year. I just always want to win. I hate losing. I despise it. So I want to be the best I can every match.”
Benet coach Brad Baker said that Johnson’s impact goes beyond measurable statistics.
“It’s more than just volleyball,” he said. “We want our seniors to take on leadership roles whether they’re playing or whether they’re not on the court. We hope our seniors are not only our best players and scoring points for us, but also our leaders.
“We talk about what we have done well in the past and what we can improve upon every year,” Baker added. “Lilly's been around the longest, so we asked her what has she seen that we can incorporate throughout everything for this year so we can be great.”
Whatever suggestions Johnson made seemed to have worked. Benet improved to 8-0 with the win and will be favored to meet No. 1-ranked Marist in the finals of the Wheaton Classic next weekend.
Lending support Wednesday were Claire Byrne with 8 kills and an ace, freshman Rachel Muisenga with 4 kills, a block and an ace as part of a long service run in the second game after Benet fell behind 13-8, and 18 assists and 5 kills from junior Allison Van Eekeren.
Benet also got stellar play from its backcourt anchored by sensational sophomore libero Hattie Monson, who follows a long line of Division I defensive whizzes produced by the Lisle school. Van Eekeren rarely wandered beyond the 10-foot line to set up her outside hitters.
“Last year, Lauren Barnes groomed me into who I am today,” said Monson, who is committed to Notre Dame and was named to the 2017 Ultra Ankle JVA All-National Team this summer. “I try not to think about it too much, I just go out there relaxed and play my game.
“I just love passing ,” she added. “Serve receive is awesome. I love diving for balls. I've always loved that. I also like being a leader in the backcourt. Since I'm the libero, I get to guide everyone and be that leader in the backcourt.”
St. Charles East (9-1), coming off wins over St. Francis on Saturday and Glenbard East on Tuesday, got 7 kills and 6 assists from Mckenna Slavik, 4 kills, 5 digs and 3 assists from Kyra Slavik and 7 digs from Anna Skryd.
“They (her players) were completely nervous in the first game,” coach Jennie Kull said. “I'm not saying anything negative against anybody that we’ve played. But this was the first match that we've seen multiple hitters, seen aggressive serving, seen all the things we've been telling them about, and they froze.
“I was pleased with the second game,” she added. “We started to get it together. We made some adjustments and every single kid played. It’s going to take us a while. We have a lot of work to do. But isn’t that what the whole season is about? Getting better?
“We have a lot of players who can do a lot of things. We just have to get them confident to do that.”