RURAL STREATOR – The Tri-County Conference this fall volleyball season is as balanced as it has been in years, with the top four teams all good matches for each other.
On Tuesday in the semifinals of the TCC Tournament at Woodland’s Warrior Dome, those four met up for two good matches.
When the last volley was finished, it was No. 4 Woodland via a three-set victory over top-seeded Roanoke-Benson and No. 2 Seneca with a hard-fought, straight-sets win over No. 3 Marquette Academy earning their way to Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. championship match.
Marquette and Roanoke-Benson will meet for third at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, preceded by Putnam County vs. Henry-Senachwine – the latter a 25-8, 25-18 winner Tuesday over Midland – playing for the consolation title at 5 p.m.
Woodland def. Roanoke-Benson, 25-18, 17-25, 25-23: In the first semifinal, the Warriors used the home-court advantage, their trademark scrappy defense and a balanced hitting attack to upset the No. 1 seed.
“The girls have been working hard all season, and I felt like they were ready for this game,” Woodland coach Michelle Pitte said. “They came out swinging, came out communicating, and they played their game.
“I expect [on Thursday] we’re going to leave it all on the court. This entire season, this has been our goal to get here, because we feel like last year we could’ve gotten here but didn’t. We’ll be ready.”
The Warriors led for most of the rubber set, but were caught at 21-21. An Ella Sibert stuff block in the center of the net broke the tie, although Woodland had to hold off multiple R-B rallies right up until Clara Downey put down the match-clinching kill, an off-balance tip down the left sideline that sent the home crowd into a frenzy and the Warriors into the championship match.
“I wasn’t going to hit because [the ball] was too close to the net,” Downey said, “but I noticed it was open and just tipped to the side no one was at hoping it’d go in. When it did, wow.”
Downey was one of three Woodland (17-8) players – the others being Emma Highland and Kaleigh Benner – who finished with five kills on the night, one behind team leader Sibert’s six kills with four stuff blocks. Jena Easton (12 assists), Shae Simons (10 assists) and Highland (six aces) also led the attack, with dig leaders including Lexi Struble (16), Downey (16) and Simons (seven).
Chaysea Wood put down 14 kills and Frannie Heckman 10 more for Roanoke-Benson (17-4).
Seneca def. Marquette, 25-21, 25-20: Both sets of Tuesday’s late semifinal were tied 18-18. In the first, the Fighting Irish (16-5) unknotted the tie with Madi Mino kill that started off a 7-3 run; and in the second it was a Caitlin O’Boyle kill untying things and sending Seneca on a 7-2 rally to send the Irish to the title match against the hosts.
While the opening set was a back-and-forth affair, Marquette (20-6) was in control for the majority of the second, leading by as many as six until a Seneca comeback sparked by winners from Zoe Hougas, Emma Smith, O’Boyle and Harleigh Varland – along with a Hougas ace serve – got the Fighting Irish back to even and, eventually, ahead.
“At 17-11, I called timeout and just kind of told them, ‘This is my second timeout. It’s on you from this point on, you’ve got to figure this out, come together and start communicating better on the court,’ which they did,” Seneca coach Noah Champene said.
“I think from that point on we were determined to put it together. Marquette is always a big rival for us, and always a solid team. I think our team was motivated and took care of business from that point.”
A Smith winner gave Seneca the night’s penultimate point, and after a clutch sideout kill from Marquette’s Mary Lechtenberg it was ultimately a Crusaders net violation on a hustle play that gave Seneca the all-important 25th tally.
“It was a good game,” Marquette coach Mindy McConnaughhay said. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind we played as hard as we could. Just every once in a while, there would be a miscue – a tip, missing a serve, a hitting error, little things –— that took our momentum. But it’ll come.
“I can’t be upset about the effort and the heart tonight.”
Marquette’s statistical leaders included Kaylee Killelea (six digs, six assists, four kills), Lindsey Kaufman (eight digs), Lechtenberg (seven kills, two blocks), Lilly Craig (three kills), Eva McCallum (three kills) and Maera Jiminez (five digs, 10 assists).
For Seneca, it was Smith (seven kills, two blocks), Mino (14 assists, three kills), Sophie Cato (three kills), Hougas (four kills), Taylor Draves (16 digs), Kennedy Hartwig (five digs) and O’Boyle (four kills).