St. Francis girls volleyball players are known for their family atmosphere and perennial success.
For St. Francis coach Lisa Ston, that’s helped in organizing an expanded Spartans alumni night Sept. 29. St. Francis is using the home match with St. Charles North to recognize players from four of its 12 state championship teams – 2012, 2002, 1997 and 1992.
“We’ve wanted to recognize our state championship teams for a long time,” Ston said. “With this being the 10th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries, it just kind of finally fell into place and we thought this would be a good time to do it.”
The championship teams all were coached by the legendary Peg Kopec, who compiled a 1,238-229-2 record in 40 seasons with 19 top three state trophy teams. Kopec retired after the Spartans’ most recent championship in 2015.
Ston did not attend St. Francis but has been with the coaching staff for 23 years, including the 2002 and 2012 titlists. Erin Kopec Tuttle, Kopec’s daughter, played for the 1997 champions and now is an assistant coach. Several former Spartans have returned to coach.
“One of the nice things about that is you don’t have to explain any of the [program] traditions. They know the value right away,” Peg Kopec said. “It’s always been hard [uniting everyone], and Lisa really deserves the credit for it. They live all over.”
Kopec established an alumni team page in the early days of Facebook. In July, Ston sent an announcement and RSVP email and said the response is encouraging. Many nearby alumni informally have expressed that they’re coming.
“We’ll announce the players by team and they’ll come down to the floor and receive a T-shirt,” Ston said.
Alumnus Beth Rodriguez DiMario from the 1997 champions talked about seeing teammate Gina Reynolds while coaching their children and 2002 player Noel (Olson) Williams at a house closing.
“It’s really just a continuation of the school, which is so family oriented, whether it’s the St. Francis family or a smaller little division that is definitely this volleyball family,” DiMario said. “Near and far we’ve kind of come together with that common theme of getting to play for this wonderful school that represents such an amazing community.”
Benet’s victory dance
Benet showed perseverance in winning the 24-team Wheaton Classic title over Lyons Township 17-25, 26-24, 25-10.
It came with a slight price. It was the Redwings’ Homecoming weekend. After a brief celebration and photos, most players quickly scattered.
“No [distraction]. We mostly wanted to just play our game and ultimately come out with a win, which we did,” Benet sophomore libero Aniya Warren said. “It was [a long day], but overall we just focused on our game and what we could do on our side.”
The Redwings used 11 players in the final as coach Brad Baker continued tweaking the lineup. Benet came within two points of losing the match at 24-24 in the second set. It was Benet’s first Classic title since 2019. Benet also captured Wheaton North’s Blue and Gold Classic on Sept. 3.
“They’re both really good [to win]. All winning is pretty fun,” Baker said. “These Saturdays are always kind of an unknown. You want to end playing well and that last set we played our best volleyball.”
Making its Classic debut, Lyons Township won a wild 25-17, 20-25, 28-26 three-set semifinal over third-place Marist, which eliminated the Lions in last year’s Class 4A sectional semifinals.
All-tournament players at the 15th annual Wheaton Classic included Ava Novak (MVP), Lynney Tarnow and Aniya Warren from champion Benet, Lyons Township’s Kamryn Lee-Caracci and Abby Markworth, IC Catholic Prep’s Ava Falduto, Wheaton North’s Audrey Brcka and Wheaton Warrenville South’s Maddie Mlady.
All-tournament players at the 40th annual Glenbard West Invite included the Hilltoppers’ Demi Carpio and Marin Johnson, St. Francis’ Addy Horner and Hinsdale South’s Evelyn Mansker.
The 10-win club
Benet (17-1), Willowbrook (16-2), Lyons Township (16-3), Glenbard West (15-7), Wheaton North (15-7) and York (14-4) in 4A, Lemont (14-7) and St. Francis (11-10) in 3A and Timothy Christian (16-2) and IC Catholic Prep (15-1) in 2A are in double digits for wins. Wheaton Academy (9-8) already has surpassed last season’s eight-win mark. Wheaton Academy was 8-18 last season.