Girls Volleyball: Benet eyes second state title in a row
BY PHIL BROZYNSKI For Sun-Times Media November 7, 2012 1:52PM
Benet's Caroline Wolf (center back) celebrates a point with teammates Cara Mattaliano (center right) and Rachael Fara (far right) during their sectional win over Lemont last week. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 10, 2012 6:09AM
Benet is not going downstate to defend its title. Many of the key players from this year’s team didn’t even dress for the 2011 state tournament.
This year’s team is going downstate to establish its own legacy.
“It’s a new team,” said senior setter Hannah Kaminsky, one of only three players on the 2012 roster who saw any significant time on the 2011 team that beat St. Charles East 25-20, 22-25, 25-19 and Cary-Grove 25-14, 22-25, 25-16 to win the school’s first volleyball state title.
Six-foot-1 senior outside hitter Cara Mattaliano, 5-10 outside hitter Nicki Barnes and 6-3 sophomore Rachael Fara weren’t even on the playoff roster a year ago, and 6-3 junior middle Brittany Pavich played sparingly after Gabby Pethokoukis returned from an early season injury.
“Those girls didn’t really get to experience what Sheila (Doyle), Brittany (Kmieciak) and I did,” Kaminsky said. “We want to do it for them.”
That’s not to say that Benet doesn’t want to make a little history.
“We also want to be the only (Class 4A) team that’s ever won two championships in a row,” Kaminsky said. “It would mean a lot to us for our senior year.”
Benet (38-2), which rallied to defeat Edwardsville 25-20, 25-20 at the Normal Community West supersectional, will continue its march toward history Friday at 9 p.m. in a Class 4A semifinal against Libertyville (34-6) at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.
The two teams have not met this season. Both teams competed at the Wheaton Classic, but Libertyville fell to Hinsdale South 29-31, 25-20, 25-20 in the Gold quarterfinals while Benet was driving to the second of its four tournament championships this season.
“We know their setter’s good,” Kaminsky said. “We know a couple of the girls because we played club against them. But we don’t know much about them. I’m sure we’ll know more by Friday. Maybe that’s good. Maybe we’ll just go out and play.”
Libertyville relies on a great defense anchored by 5-6 senior libero Kristen Webb, who made some phenomenal defensive plays Saturday to extend rallies against Prairie Ridge, 6-foot senior setter Cindy Zhou (Michigan) and outside hitters Taylor Zant and Julia Smagacz.
“I think defense definitely wins games,” Webb said. “If you can’t get the ball up, you can’t start your offense. We go out there with the mentality that nothing is going to drop. I can’t let anything drop.”
Benet will test that defense with a quick offense and a pair of powerful middles — Pavich and Fara — who are certain to see the ball a lot after the Benet coaching staff looks at how effective Prairie Ridge’s big middles — 6-3 Maddie Drain (seven kills) and 5-11 Ali Witt (five kills) — were Saturday.
“They’re going to test our defense,” Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. “They’re strong in the middle. Prairie Ridge’s middles got us a little bit Saturday, but we were able to neutralize their pin hitters for the most part, which was our ultimate goal.”
Zhou is a four-year starter for Libertyville and remembered playing Benet in the 2011 Wheaton Classic, a match Benet won 25-15, 25-18.
“Benet’s good,” Zhou said. “From what I know from last year, they’re really good. I think we really just have to want it more. We have the skills, but so do the other teams downstate. We just have to want it more than they do.”