Girls volleyball: St. Viator battles but can't take down defending champ Nazareth
For Nazareth girls volleyball coach Melissa Masterson, the only thing more precious than a supersectional title plaque Friday night was a person: Sienna Masterson, the coach's 10-month-old daughter.
The smiling mother held the smiling infant in her right arm after her reigning state champion Roadrunners defeated St. Viator's Lions 26-24, 25-20 at the Class 3A Trinity girls volleyball supersectional in River Forest.
A wide-eyed Sienna was speechless.
"I don't think anyone expected us to reach this point in the season," said Masterson, whose club (21-16) had owned a deceptively so-so record of 16-16 record at the start of the postseason.
"Last year, making program history was awesome, and I told our players this season, 'I wouldn't want to be in your position, following that wonderful experience.' But they realized, all of them did, 'We're still capable of coming together and earning big wins.'"
The triumph Friday night avenged an agonizing loss (29-27 in the third set) -- on Nazareth's senior night, no less -- and secured a 3A state semifinal berth against Taylorville next Friday afternoon at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal.
Nazareth junior outside hitter Victoria Sarin didn't need a high chair to strike 2 kills for the first 2 points of the match. Her natural springs did just fine, thank you. She also displayed her defensive skills in the fifth point, notching a pair of digs, including 1 in which she hit hardwood hard.
"Victoria," Roadrunners junior libero Reese Butkus said, "has been on fire for us lately."
It spread quickly vs. the Lions. Team Inferno raced to an 18-10 lead on a kill by senior middle Emily Risley.
St. Viator (30-10) then said, via their collective resolve, "Not so fast."
Coach Charlie Curtin's crew produced a gym-rocking, 12-3 run to take its first lead of the set, 22-21.
"That's our team, right there," Curtain said afterward. "Our players never gave up, no matter the score, at any point this season."
Viator went ahead again, at 23-22, on a kill by junior hitter Andrea Rivera and had a set point two points later. But Nazareth middle/right-side hitter Olivia Austin came up huge in consecutive points, hammering a kill to knot matters at 24 and pounding another kill to give her side a set point.
Nazareth senior reserve defensive specialist Megan McNicholas then delivered an ace -- the first of the night -- to end the set emphatically.
Viator's resilient Lions skipped to a 5-2 advantage in set two, prompting the elder Masterson to call a timeout. Butkus made a sensational service reception right after the break and served 5 consecutive points, with her ace capping Nazareth's 6-0 spurt.
The Roadrunners later led 14-11, only to watch Viator get as close as 16-15, thanks to all-out hustle from Lions senior libero Reanne Valera during a frenetic 31st point.
Another Austin kill upped the difference to 17-15.
Two kills from Nazareth junior outside hitter Lauren Salata, sandwiched around Butkus' fourth and final ace, helped the reigning champs take a 21-17 lead.
"Fun match, in an amazing atmosphere," said Curtin, who guided St. Viator to a fourth-place finish at the 3A state tourney in 2017. "Nazareth is a fantastic team.
"Our girls," he added, "worked together well on the court. And they're good friends off the court."
"That's a smart team, a fast team, with a great setter (senior Katherine Sandt, 16 assists)," Lions senior middle Marcelina Gorny said of the Roadrunners.
Salata paced the victors' attack with 8 kills, followed by Austin (7) and Sarin (4). Butkus bumped a team-high 11 digs, and Risley and Austin each popped for 2 blocks.
Gorny and senior Ella Trieloff finished with 10 kills apiece for St. Viator; Rivera thumped 5. Lions setters Mary Grace Lynch (13 digs) and Louisa Battin each lofted 12 assists. Valera and freshman Erin Lynch contributed 11 and 7 digs, respectively.
"Viator ... that team fights," Masterson said. "It fought hard at our place (while overcoming a 24-19 third-set deficit).
"Tonight we stayed composed at the end of the first set during that Viator comeback."