High school volleyball: Cary-Grove headed to state after beating Stevenson

GRAYSLAKE – The Cary-Grove volleyball team grabbed the supersectional trophy and held it high in the air. The entire student section, which flooded the court to surround the team, jumped up and down, chanting “State! State! State!”

A student pointed an iPhone at senior outside hitter Sarah Graham. “We’re going to state!” she screamed into it. “State bound,” the @CaryGroveVB Twitter account announced, with a confetti emoji for punctuation.

The Trojans beat Stevenson, 25-17, 25-21, Saturday. They won the Grayslake Central Supersectional. Oh, and if you haven’t heard yet, they’re going to state.

“It was elation,” senior setter Erin Olson said. “I was so happy. I was ecstatic.”

Cary-Grove (34-5) will play St. Francis in the Class 4A state semifinal Friday at approximately 9 p.m. at Redbird Arena in Normal. It will be the Trojans' fourth appearance at the state tournament in school history. They advanced three straight seasons from 2009 to 2011.

“I almost had tears coming at that last point,” Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis said. "I’ve been with them so long. And it feels like forever since we’ve been downstate. You start to wonder, will you every be able to get that quality back where you can make a run to state. To see this team be able to do that was a little overwhelming.”

The Trojans begin each season by traveling to a college for team camp. This year, Langanis chose Illinois State, the location of the state tournament.

“We started our season there, we’re going to end there,” senior libero Delaney Bayer (13 digs) said. “That was our motto for the year.”

The Trojans started the match with three-straight kills from senior middle blocker Alli Splitt, establishing early on that they would run their offense through the middle with Splitt (13 kills) and junior middle blocker Madison Katchen (four kills).

They added diversity to the offense with outside hitters Sarah Graham (eight kills) and Ally Vasquez (three kills).

“We try to spread out our offense,” said Katchen, who added four blocks “When the middle is working and can’t be shut down, we just keep working with that.”

With the first set tied, 7-7, Cary-Grove won the next four points and never again trailed. But the second set was much closer, featuring 15 ties.

The Trojans trailed, 20-18, but battled back with five straight points to take control.

"A lot of us have been dreaming about this since we were in sixth grade," Vasquez said. "It was really incredible to finally make it."

The unsung hero:

Emily Schuster, Cary-Grove, So., DS

The sophomore stepped up in a big way for the Trojans with 12 digs.

The number — 4:

The Trojans advance to the state tournament for the fourth time in school history.

And another thing...

Cary-Grove's three previous trips to the state tournament resulted in one state championship (2009) and two runner-ups (2010 and 2011).