Girls volleyball: St. Francis rallies past Kaneland in 3 sets

 
 
Updated 11/2/2022 9:46 PM

St. Francis has come a long way since the season started.

Now the Spartans will go a long way on Friday to see if they can take their team to state as they defeated Kaneland 26-24, 22-25, 25-18 to win Wednesday's Class 3A Burlington Central sectional championship.

 

St. Francis (27-12) will take on Metamora at 7 p.m. in the Sterling supersectional, a good 90-minute drive away from Wheaton.

"This is not the same team as we were from August," said Spartans senior Jessica Schmidt, who had seven kills and two blocks. "We could not connect. We had talks during almost every practice about what's going on, why we can't connect, why we can't whatever and we finally were able to come together as a family and figure it out."

Kaneland (29-7) led the first set 23-20 after a kill from junior Rosie Karl, but the Knights couldn't finish off the Spartans, who scored three straight points to draw even. Senior Meredith Milz's block gave the Knights a 24-23 advantage but once against the Spartans responded with three straight points, the final two coming on kills from sophomore Addy Horner.

"It kind of felt like all gas and no brakes and we just had to play each point," Horner said. "I had to tell myself to keep moving on from any errors and get to the next point because at any point it could be anyone's game."

Horner most certainly did her part to ensure the Spartans would live another day on the court with 19 kills and 18 assists as well as three blocks and three digs.

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"I think my teammates and coaches have helped me build up my confidence this season, which has helped me a lot," Horner said. "And my back row telling me where to hit is super helpful. It feels rewarding to peak at the right time and see us all come together as one after all this hard work."

Schmidt's confidence continues to be sky high when she's in tandem with Horner.

"Addy is incredible," she said. "She really is the best and when we're up there blocking that outside l feel like we're unstoppable."

Kaneland fell behind 7-3 at the start of the second set. The slow start, combined with the Spartans ability to rally late to take the first set, turned the heat on the Knights and they found a way to answer.

Junior Carmella Rio's ace gave them their first lead at 9-8. Once again, the Spartans rallied late, but this time they were thwarted on a point from Kaneland senior Bre Ebert and a set-ending kill from Karl.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There were very few unforced errors on both sides," Knights coach Cyndi Violett said. "It was a matter of picking up the balls, the hits, and keeping them out of system as much as possible. It was a great match."

In the decisive third set, the Spartans scored five consecutive points, highlighted by pair of kills and a block from Schmidt to take a 15-10 lead. The Knights would respond immediately, including a kill from Ebert to pull them to within 15-14, but they wouldn't get any closer.

"I think both teams were very aggressive and Kaneland's serves were very aggressive and it takes teams out of their offense and they struggle with what they want to run," Spartans coach Lisa Ston said. "I attribute a lot of those runs to great serving on both sides. Our run at the end was (junior) Veronica Urbasek who scored 4 or 5 in a row on aggressive serving."

Juniors KK Dumpit (22 assists, 10 digs), Liv Basel (16 digs), Catherine D'Orazio (11 digs) and Urbasek (two aces) and senior Brooke Everett (six kills, three digs) also came through with big efforts to lead the Spartans.

"They started the season very rocky, but we're young and they've worked really hard to get here," Ston said. "They're playing at the top of their game right now and I couldn't be more proud of them.

The Knights once again fell just short of making it to the Elite Eight for the first time in 45 years.

"No Elite Eight since 1977 so we need to get past this one," Violett said. "We had great leadership from our seniors. We only had four seniors so we're looking for great things next year."

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