Members of the Nazareth Academy girls volleyball team hold aloft the state second-place trophy after the season’s final game in Normal on Nov. 12. | Bill Stone/Contributor

Senior setter Kitty Sandt has been a big contributor to all three of the Nazareth Academy girls volleyball team’s top-three state trophy teams.

The Clemson recruit and the Roadrunners came only points away from once seemingly improbable back-to-back state titles Nov. 12.

The Roadrunners lost to St. Francis 25-23, 25-23 in the IHSA Class 3A championship final in Normal after leading 23-22 in the second set.

“Every time I come down here, it’s a surreal experience. It’s kind of become my second home a little bit,” Sandt said. “I’m just really proud of everyone. We never let what was going on outside of our team affect us and we just kept pushing through to get here.”

Sandt also was part of the Roadrunners’ third-place state finisher in 2019. Because of COVID-19, there was no 2020 state tournament.

Sandt and junior Olivia Austin are the lone starters from the 2021 championship rotation led by a senior class that included current NCAA Division I players Katie Hurta and Gillian Grimes, now both at Penn State. 

“This is a tough one. You never want to lose, but there’s nothing that I’m not proud of for this group to get back to this match when maybe not a lot of people expected them to,” Nazareth coach Melissa Masterson said.

With another tough schedule against several Class 4A postseason powers, the Roadrunners became probably the only team ever to make a state final after starting with 4-10 and 8-13 records.

“I just knew that [we could return with] this group of girls. I’m just so proud of every one of them,” Austin said. “I can’t describe how hard we worked and how much faith we had in each other in order to get here.”

“We started off a little rocky but these girls came in every day and never gave up on each other, never gave up on themselves,” Sandt said. “Eventually we just clicked.” 

Sandt led this season’s team with 641 assists and was second with 263 kills and 247 digs. 

Austin had a team-best 69 blocks with 215 kills. Other standouts included juniors Lauren Salata (team-high 371 kills) and Reese Butkus (team-high 499 digs and 44 aces) and seniors Emily Risley (47 blocks) and Megan McNicholas (37 aces).

Salata excelled despite battling shin splints since last season, hamstring issues and a recent knee injury. She’s played with Sandt since she was 9 years old.

“Once you’re in it, the adrenaline, everything going on through your head, you don’t focus on those things. You’re just focused on the sport and nothing else,” Salata said.