COAL CITY – Keep advancing in the Class 3A girls volleyball postseason, and odds are good you will eventually run into St. Francis.
Coal City has known for weeks that if it achieved its preseason goal of a regional championship, a matchup with eight-time and defending state champion St. Francis would follow in one of its next two matches. The teams have been assigned to the same sectional in both years since Coal City moved up to 3A.
For one game in Thursday's sectional championship at Coal City, the blowout many expected seemed to be coming to fruition. Coal City drew within a point of the Spartans in the middle of the second game, however, before St. Francis held on to complete the sweep, 25-9, 25-21.
"Yeah, we did play well," Coal City senior Claire Smith said. "But I feel that we could have even done better. There's like a few little errors that we could have cleaned up and stuff. But honestly, I'm proud overall. That's a big step. Being in 3A's been like a big change for us. It's a lot harder. The fact that we got this far, I think, says a lot."
An Amber Wilder service point gave Coal City an early 3-2 lead, but St. Francis would dominate the rest of the first set. St. Francis sophomore Molly Haggerty had more kills in Game 1 (5) than did the Coalers (4).
When the Spartans built leads of 4-0, 8-4 and 13-8 in Game 2, the large Coal City crowd was almost silent. It got life again when two-point service runs from both Emily Halliday and Hillary Campos got the Lady Coalers within 15-14.
"We showed that we can compete with the top teams," Halliday said, "and we deserve to be here. I know a lot of people, like the newspapers and everything, were always thinking we were gonna lose. Nobody expected us to get this far, and we showed that we can compete."
They never got closer, as a service error and a Mary Boken kill on a Lisa Mordell service point gave the Spartans a bit of breathing room, and their lead remained multiple points until the finish. Coal City kept it close by denying St. Francis more than one point on any of its last eight serves.
"I thought we definitely stepped it up," Coal City setter Kassie Aldridge said. "We tried our best and unfortunately it didn't work out, but we gave it our all."
Coal City finishes 23-10-2 overall.
"I think all of our players, they stepped up to every challenge that they wanted to do this year – won conference (the Interstate Eight North) ... defeated Manteno, twice, same season; won a regional. Everything that they set their minds to, they did," Coal City coach Michael Lanoue said.
"I just asked my team to play a game to remember, not a game to forget. ... Just didn't have the firepower to finish."