After watching the St. Francis girls volleyball team celebrate its 25-11, 25-21 victory over Lyons in the Class AA Lyons Supersectional Monday night in LaGrange, the Lions faithful had to begin to wonder if their squad is cursed.
For the third consecutive year, the Lions were unable to get over the supersectional hump and punch their state-finals ticket to Illinois State University. In the last two years, however, the two teams to defeat coach Joann Pyritz’s squad-Mother McAuley and Naperville Central-went on to capture the state crown.
“At least we’ve been here,” Pyritz said. “It’s better to be here than not to be here. We don’t have a lot of star power, but these girls play with a lot of heart and as a team all year.”
The Spartans (38-2) wasted little time capturing game Game 1. After falling behind 2-1, the closest Lyons (30-10) would get the rest of the way was three points.
Megan Boken led St. Francis with 10 kills, while Catherine Culligan (9 kills), Megan Barnicle (6 kills, 4 blocks) and Alyssa Rio (6 kills) also came up big. Michelle Kocher was the pace setter with 24 assists.
“Everything went right for us in the first game,” St. Francis coach Peg Kopec said. “That doesn’t happened too often that everything goes your way, and I reminded the girls about that between games.”
With its season on the line, Lyons came out and controlled much of Game 2. With the scored tied at 5-5, the Lions grabbed the momentum and built a 19-14 lead before Kopec called a timeout.
“We had the momentum on our side at that point,” said Lyons’ Kathryn Tuerk, a 5-8 outside hitter. “We came out with a lot of heart in that game and hustled for everything.”
But just when it looked as though Tuerk and Co. were going to force a winner-take-all third game, St. Francis flexed its muscle.
The Spartans ran off eight unanswered points to turn a five-point deficit into a 22-19 lead. St. Francis’ powerful front line turned it up a notch, as it recorded five kills during that decisive stretch.
“St. Francis coasted a little bit through the second game and then realized it had to turn it up a notch,” Pyritz said. “We gave them too many gifts. When you do that against a team like St. Francis, there is a chance those gifts are going to come back in your face.”
Tuerk and Rachel August recorded three kills apiece for Lyons, while Christy Landschoot had seven assists.