Girls volleyball: Benet battles back, beats McAuley in 3
Two of the storied programs in Illinois girls volleyball state history met on Wednesday night.
Benet and Mother McAuley hooked up for one of the best nonconference matches in a non-tournament setting this season -- in the middle of spring.
Even though the two teams are playing in an unfamiliar season, the Redwings and Mighty Macs engaged in an epic heavyweight battle of state powerhouses.
Yet, the Mighty Macs nearly ran away with a two-set road victory. Trailing 16-12 in the second set, the Redwings called a timeout to gather for one last push to avoid a two-set loss.
Benet senior setter Rachel Muisenga said it was a telling moment in the match.
"We just regrouped and were like, 'come on, this is our home gym' we knew we could get back into this match," she said. "We took each point one at a time to get back into the match."
Sure enough, the Redwings battled back to pull out an inspiring 22-25, 25-22, 25-13 victory over the Mighty Macs.
Mother McAuley, the most storied program in the state with 15 state championships, had defeated the Redwings in two sets in each of their last two meetings, with their most recent battle in 2017.
But the Redwings (4-0) gained a measure of revenge in an abridged season without a state tournament by knocking the Mighty Macs (9-1) from the unbeaten ranks.
"It was a huge win," Benet senior Kyla Kenney said. "We've played good teams, but that's a great team. We needed that. We saw after the first set that we needed to step up our game. It was a great match."
The Redwings played stellar defense, picking up numerous balls with highlight-reel digs and were strong at the net. In total, the Redwings had three players with double-digit digs to finish with 57.
Kenney, an Indiana recruit, tallied 13 kills and 11 digs, the Penn State-bound Muisenga had 23 assists and six digs. Caroline Doyle picked up 16 digs and Jaci Budreck added 14 digs. Ann Marie Remmes tallied seven kills and Daria Rodriguez finished with six kills, including the game winner.
"This is super special," Rodriguez said. "We didn't even expect to have a season this year. Everything was so up in the air, so just being able to play in big games and go out there one last time with the seniors and underclassmen is such a great feeling for all of us."
Since 2007, when Brad Baker took over the program, the Redwings have won 32 or more matches per season. But the Redwings won't have a chance to extend that streak in the condensed season, though Baker said beating the Mighty Macs was a small consolation prize.
Baker said the team regrouped following his timeout in the middle of the second set.
"It was just one of those, that was kind of it (moments)," he said. "They were pulling away, had just won the first set and you were kind of gut check, where are you at. It was the first time this team has really been in a moment like that. Some of these kids have, but as a group, you like to have lots of those in a season to build toward the end. It was a fun match. It was a fun night."
The back-and-forth match between two teams with high-level talent featured stellar plays throughout the three sets. Molly McDermott paced the Mighty Macs with nine kills and two blocks, while freshman sensation Ellie White contributed five kills and seven digs. Caroline Macander played a stellar match, finishing with 25 assists, 11 digs and two kills.
Muisenga said the Redwings showed their fortitude by bouncing back from the near-loss.
"They've had a bit more competition than we've had as a team," she said. "I'm really proud of our team coming out and finishing the job. I know we had a rough first set, but we pulled it together and came back in the second and finished it in the third. It was really nice to see."