By Randy Whalen
Winning a state championship is, to understate it, challenging. The vast majority of programs in Illinois have never accomplished what is every team’s ultimate goal.
To win state titles in consecutive years is even more difficult.
To do it a third time is the stuff of legend.
And for Marist, it just wasn’t meant to be.
The RedHawks ventured to the state finals last week with hopes of a three-peat. However, a familiar foe on a mission derailed that bid.
That was Benet, which dethroned the two-time defending Class 4A champs with a resounding victory in the semifinals on Nov. 15.
The RedHawks rebounded and sent a special group of seniors out on a winning note with a 23-25, 25-22, 25-20 victory over Fremd in the Class 4A third place game on Nov. 16 at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State in Normal.
“Coming in, we expected to get that first-place trophy,” Marist senior outside hitter Avery Jedry said. “But we were guaranteed a last game, so why not go out and win it?”
The RedHawks (39-3) did against a very determined Fremd (36-6) team, which was making its first state finals appearance since placing fourth in Class AA in 1987. They had to do it without one of its top players in senior libero Mairead Boyle, the team’s top defensive player and a standout on the two state title-winning squads, who fell ill two days before the semifinal match and was unable to compete.
“It was pretty tough,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said of Boyle being out. “I mean, you can’t even put words to it. You’re a senior, and you’ve been here before, twice, and you have two state championships. You have a chance for a third, and you don’t get to go on the court.”
Marist was determined to go out with a win and after dropping the opening set responded with a victory in the second. Then, down 18-15 in the decisive third set, the RedHawks rallied.
At 20-20, freshman outside hitter Kamryn Chaney clubbed a kill. Jedy jetted another one, senior outside hitter Maddie Arundel attacked an ace, Chaney came through with another kill, and a Viking hitting error ended it.
“It felt great to be back there,” said Arundel, who had a team-high 37 aces on the season, of serving out the match. “I had so much confidence because I could look at the other people on the court and on the bench. They bring confidence to me. We all have each other’s backs. To be back there at the end of the game was awesome.”
Marist’s “Big Three”: seniors Arundel, right side hitter/setter Camryn Hannah and Jedry, led the charge. Arundel had 12 kills and six digs, Hannah added 11 kills and 13 assists, and Jedry jammed nine kills and nine digs. Chaney contributed six kills and junior setter Nikki Jones dished out 25 assists.
After nine ties in the first set, the second set only had three, the last one at 13-13. Then the RedHawks pulled away to a 24-18 lead. The Vikings saved four set points but a kill by Jones ended the set and sent it to a third.
“That’s all it came down to it toughing it out,” Vidovic said of the final match. “That’s been our MO. It’s tough mentally to go 39-3 and the girls gave themselves a chance to come down here at the end.
“A lot of people would kill to play a match down here and we’ve had girls that played six matches here. We’re disappointed that we didn’t win it again, but sometimes you learn more from those disappointments.”
The semifinal featured two teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation, with Marist coming into the tournament 9th and Benet 10th, according to MaxPreps.
But it was the Redwings on this day as they took a 25-12, 25-23 victory.
The match was quite a contrast from the last time the two teams met. That was in an East Suburban Catholic contest Oct. 22 at Marist, where the hosts won 25-13, 25-21 to give the Redwings their only loss of the season. The two teams also played in the title match of the Wheaton Classic on Sept. 21, where Benet won 22-25, 29-27, 25-22.
In the semifinal match, Hannah and Jedry dad six kills and Arundel added five. Junior Jillian Elsouso had 11 digs on defense and Jones passed out 14 assists.
The Redwings (41-1) went onto wallop Wheaton Warrenville South 25-12, 25-16 in the state title match. It was the fourth Class 4A title for Benet since 2011. Last year, the Redwings placed third after losing 25-18, 25-15 to Marist in the semifinals.
But there was nothing but respect between Benet and the RedHawks.
“If we had to lose, it was good that we lost to a team like that,” Hannah said following the semifinal match. “If it couldn’t be us, then it should be them. They put up a good fight, and they gave us a good game. That’s all you could ask for.”
Three straight state trophies, including consecutive titles, is what Marist could ask for. That’s what the RedHawks got, too, and they hope to continue the run next year. But the six seniors from this team – Arundel, Boyle, Tess Brennan, Paige Cormier, Hannah and Jedry – will be missed.
The third-place match was the final one for Brennan and Jedry, who are not going onto play in college.
“I’m going into nursing and don’t think I’d be able to do both,” Jedry said. “But I’m going to miss the experience of volleyball and all the seniors.”