Congratulations to the 16 girls’ volleyball teams competing in the Illinois state championships earlier today at the Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University, Normal. Four of them emerged with a state championship: Keith Country Day School in Rockford (1A), Immaculate Conception Catholic in Elmhurst (2A), St Francis in Wheaton (3A), and the Mighty Macs from Mother McAuley in Chicago (4A).
1A Champs: Rockford (Keith Country Day)
Coach Lynn Cesario led the Lady Cougars to their second consecutive Class 1A state title, defeating Mt Pulaski last year, 25-21, 18-25, 25-22, and defeating the Comets from Stewardson-Strasburg High School this morning, 25-18, 25-17. As a head coach at Keith Country Day, her record is 132-52 over the last five seasons.
The Lady Cougars were led, in the championship match, by 6’2″ senior outside hitter Adeja Lambert, who had a .240 hitting percentage and more kills than any other player in the match—11, including match point off a set by 5’8″ senior Marisa Morgan. Lambert also had 6 digs and 2 service aces in the match.
Coverage of the match and this historic win for the school can be found in the Rockford Register-Star. “Coming here the first year, it was a lot of nerves and pressure put on us, just wanting us to win,” the paper quoted Ali Nicolosi, one of six seniors on the team, as saying. “We proved that we could do it last year and coming back this year, it really shows that hard work really pays off and just because we are a 1A school, we can accomplish great things.”
2A Champs: Elmhurst (IC Catholic)
The duo of Rory Manion and Delaney D’Amore led Immaculate Conception against Edwards County in the 2A championship game, defeating the Lions, 25-15, 25-19. Head coach Jean Field, who has coached the Lady Knights for 39 seasons—yes, since 1973, when the team went 3-2 on the entire season—now has a cumulative record at IC Catholic of 885-474-7, including two previous state championships (1981, 1984) and three second-place finishes (1979, 1980, 1982).
Manion, a 6-foot senior, had 10 kills, 2 service aces, and 9 digs, while her teammate, 5’11” senior D’Amore, had 1 service ace, 7 digs, and 11 kills, including the kill that won the match off a set from 5’10” senior Kimmy Martino.
When the Chicago Sun-Times asked Field if she could wait another 29 years for a state title, she responded, “I’d be 93. That would make me a little old.”
“I’m speechless,” the paper quoted D’Amore as saying. “I am so blessed to be able to do what (my mom) [who is an assistant coach and played on the 1984 championship team] did (29) years ago. It’s been awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better high school experience—my senior year and getting to do this with my mom and my best friends. I couldn’t ask for more.”
3A Champs: Wheaton (St. Francis)
St Francis head coach Peg Kopec already has one huge record in Illinois girls’ volleyball: winningest coach. With today’s decisive and second consecutive state championship win over LaSalle-Peru, 25-19, 25-7, she increased that record to 1,159-222-2. Now she has also reached the top of another list all by herself: most state titles. She has 10, while Mother McAuley’s former coach, Nancy Pedersen, has nine.
Coverage is provided in the Chicago Tribune, which quoted Kopec as saying the Spartans “had a lot of adversity this year. We had four injured players that ended their seasons this year. We had to move people around. We have some really young people.”
One of those younger players, 6’1″ sophomore Molly Haggerty, an outside hitter, had 2 digs and 7 kills, including the match winner, off a set by 5’5″ sophomore Daniele Messa, who finished the match with 11 assists and 3 digs.
“I think going out we didn’t know how they were going to play against us, so the second game we adjusted to how they were playing, and we focused trying to give them the least possible points as possible,” the Tribune quoted Haggerty as saying.
4A Champs: Chicago (Mother McAuley)
The 4A third-place match was a real nail biter, with New Trier ultimately defeating Crystal Lake South and finishing their third-place season 31-3, thanks tonight to the powerful play of 6’5″ junior Sarah Shafiq and 6-foot senior setter Taylor Tashima. Shafiq had 15 kills, and Tashima, who was the Sun-Times Girls’ Volleyball Player of the Year, had 11, along with 20 assists and 12 digs. The match was exciting to watch indeed, and the final score was 22-25, 25-17, 25-23.
But when it came to the championship game, the energy could only be described as “on fire.” Both teams put so many Division I recruits on the court that a player in any position who couldn’t hit was impossible to find. Mother McAuley won the match and their new record 14th state title, 25-22, 25-19, but I would be remiss not to mention Benet Academy’s outstanding play, especially on defense. Early in the second set, for example, a very impressive but typical-for-this-match diving dig by 5’9″ senior Caroline Wolf switched the momentum temporarily in favor of the Redwings.
Volleyball is a game of desire and momentum, I’ve been told by several high school champions. It can change on a dime, and in a game where the energy was as high as it was tonight, whoever wants it the most when it’s time for the last run is going to win.
Speaking to 5’10” junior Ryann DeJarld after the match, an IHSA reporter asked about the energy. “It was definitely a team effort,” she said. “Everyone on my team just kept me going and fired me up.” She had 7 kills and 4 digs in the match.
Her teammate, 6-foot sophomore Kayla Caffey, led the Mighty Macs with 8 kills, including one that earned the team its 24th point in the second set, off an assist from senior Courtney Joyce. The match ended, somewhat anticlimactically given the buildup, on a Benet net violation.
Head coach Jen DeJarld, Ryann’s mom, told an IHSA correspondent after the game that her first state title as head coach meant a lot. “I’ve been at McAuley for 19 years,” she said. “I won two championships as a player, and to do it with my daughter on the team was something special.”
The Mighty Mac seniors, she said, took a leadership role on the team. “They’re a pretty special group,” she told the correspondent. “A lot of these seniors didn’t have starting roles, and they contributed just as much off the court as on the court, guiding the juniors and one sophomore.”
Previous state titles for the Mighty Macs are 1977 under coach Donna Smith, 1980, 1981, and 1982 under coach Mary Anne Malone, and then under coach Nancy Pedersen, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, and 2004.