NORMAL – Most athletes never get the opportunity to compete for one state championship, let alone two of them.
Minooka’s girls volleyball team fulfilled a yearlong quest by returning to the Class 4A title match Saturday at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
After dropping a three-set match to eventual national champion Mother McAuley in last season’s state finals, coach Carrie Prosek’s Indians faced a Marist team that was ranked No. 2 nationally in this year’s title match.
After a win in the semifinal match and an 8-4 start in the finale, it looked as if Minooka might be able to achieve its goal of winning the program’s first championship.
But driven by a similar goal, the RedHawks used an effective attack and capitalized on some hitting errors to help them rally for a 22-25, 25-22, 25-15 victory for their first title.
It was only the third three-set match of the year for the Indians, with another happening Aug. 26 when Marist beat them in the finals of the Plainfield North Invite.
Minooka finished with a school-best 39-3 record. A year ago, it posted a 35-7 mark to give it an impressive 74-10 showing over the past two seasons.
Six seniors, Taylor Baranski, Holly Bonde, Samantha Hermann, Olivia Klank, Alli Papesh and Rocky Perinar, got the opportunity to lead the way during both seasons. Last year’s setter, Brooklyn Bachmann, left big shoes to fill, but sophomore Zoey Seput rose to the occasion.
“In our last couple of huddles, we decided to give it our all and leave whatever we had left on the court,” said Perinar, who had 12 kills. “Even though we expected more, this is a great accomplishment, and we should be proud. This sets a really good example for future years and we really left a legacy, even though it didn’t go our way by getting second two years in a row. Thanks to everyone’s support, this leaves a good standard for our community.”
Throughout the history of the tournament, 24 other teams had tried to bounce back from a runner-up finish one year with a title the next, but only half of those achieved that goal.
“We’re walking out of here with our heads held high with a lot of pride,” said Papesh, who had 11 kills. “Not many people can say that they played in the state championship game, and we did it two times. They threw things that we hadn’t seen all season, and we made plays that we hadn’t made all season. But when it came down to it in the third set, they just had too big of a run. When you’re playing this good of a team, it’s hard to recover from that.”
Led by Savannah Thompson (14 kills), Maggie Meyer (nine kills) and Molly Murrihy (32 assists), the RedHawks won their 32nd straight match to finish 41-1.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” said Klank, who had five blocks. “They’re a very strong team and we both held our own. Things didn’t go our way all of the time, but we played for each other, and played as hard as we could. We have no reason to regret anything that happened on the court. It hurts that it didn’t go our way, but this is something we’ll cherish forever.”
While their title dreams got dashed in a frustrating fashion, the Indians were still proud that they worked hard to put themselves in a position to play for another championship.
“We have to be happy that we were able to experience this,” said Hermann, who had four blocks. “With so many supporters in the community, we got to make our season go as long as it could be. We got to be with each other one last time and I had a good time here, I had fun. We’re proud that we wore the orange and black and that we played for the Indians.”
Despite the loss, the Indians still made history by becoming the first area girls volleyball team to play for consecutive titles in the large-school division and they also became the school’s first girls program to advance to two-straight championship contests.
“They’re a great team and things didn’t go our way tonight,” said Bonde, who had five blocks. “But this is still a huge accomplishment for us and our school. I don’t want anyone on this team to hold their heads down since this is still a huge accomplishment. I’m so thankful for this program and how supportive our fans are. This was a truly special team.”
For a program that had been to state once and never won a trophy before 2016, the future looks bright at Minooka and the players hope that others can reach the ultimate goal.
“I think it’s important that future players know that we’ll be behind them every step of the way,” said Baranski, who had 20 digs. “Once we leave Minooka, we’re not leaving behind the program, which I think will keep doing great things. It’s a little bit disappointing but we are all very proud of what we’ve done. The pride that we all have for making it this far was great.”