By Phil Brozynski
First of all, congratulations to Joliet Catholic on winning the Illinois High School Association Class 3A title.
But some people are wondering how the Angels could win a state championship and slip from No. 2 in the Sun-Times last regular-season poll to No. 4 in the final Sun-Times volleyball poll.
Blame the IHSA, St. Charles East and the math.
First of all, the Class 4A tournament field - top to bottom - was superior to the Class 3A field. The final four of Mother McAuley, Benet, St. Charles East and Evanston was significantly better than Burlington Central, Breese Mater Dei, Payton and Joliet Catholic.
It is hard to imagine, after watching the state finals, any of the three Class 3A semifinalists other than Joliet Catholic capable of beating Benet, Mother McAuley or St. Charles East.
So by winning the Class 4A title, regardless of the path they took to the championship game (and the IHSA contributed by steering the Saints clear of teams like Naperville Central, Naperville North and Downers Grove South), the Saints earned the final No. 1 ranking. What they did during the regular season does not affect their final ranking.
That left three teams for consideration for the next three poll positions. And that's where head-to-head meetings came into play.
Joliet Catholic lost to Mother McAuley in their only meeting (at Glenbard East). Benet beat McAuley in their only meeting (in the 4A semifinals). Benet and Joliet Catholic split. So in meetings among the three teams, Benet was 2-1, McAuley was 1-1 and Joliet Catholic was 1-2.
That's how Benet finished second, McAuley third and Joliet Catholic fourth in the final poll.
If Benet had won the 4A title, the final rankings would have been No. 1 Benet, No. 2 McAuley, No. 3 Joliet Catholic (still dropping one spot) and No. 4 St. Charles. If McAuley had won (and beaten Benet in the semifinals), Joliet Catholic would have remained No. 2.
You have to admire Sue Hayes' guts...no matter where they are.
During Friday's intense semifinal between Mother McAuley and Benet, the Mighty Macs' 5-foot-1 libero ran off the court prompting a brief pause in the match. Hayes looked at first if she was going to head up the tunnel exiting the arena.
Only the McAuley bench and a few close spectators knew what was ailing Hayes. But when she knelt in front of a bucket surrounded by teammates, it became apparent that intestinal distress has gotten the best of the 5-foot-1 senior.
After a few minutes, Hayes returned to the floor, waiving to the McAuley fans with a wide smile across her face.
"She was giving everything she had on the floor, and she left some in the bucket, too," McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said.
Apparently, the listed starting times for the state volleyball tournament are more like guidelines than actual rules.
Neither 9:30 a.m. match on Friday or Saturday started on time, and when Saturday's Class 1A third-place match went three games, the 1A title game was pushed back to 11:00 a.m. Then that match went three games.
By the time St. Edward took the court for a 11:30 a.m. scheduled start to the 2A third-place match, it was 1:25 p.m.
Saturday's headliner 4A title game between Benet and St. Charles East, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., did not begin until nearly 8:30 p.m. and did not finish until 9:50 p.m.
Of course, if you're a fan and you have to wait two, three hours before your team's game begins, you can always pass the time by visiting nearby scenic Towanda.
Quick. Can you find Ashland, Chandlerville or Prentice on a map? Or even know where to look? How about Blandinsville? Good Hope? Tennessee (the town not the state)? Greenup? Jewett? Dover? Leepertown? Pesotum? Sadorus? Fayetteville?
All those towns were represented by teams in the Illinois state volleyball tournament.
In Class 1A, Lanark Eastland returns sophomore setter Hope Linker, 6-1 sophomore middle Courtney Blair, 5-8 sophomore Katelyn Hasken and 5-9 junior outside Megan Bunyer.
In 2A, Freeburg loses setter Krystin Wahlig and libero Andrea Bolt, but welcomes back most of its offense including 6-2 middle Kayleigh Cox, outside Colleen Yarber, sophomore middle Chelsi Hummert and outside Sam Kassing.
Joliet Catholic and Annemarie Hickey and St. Francis with Kelsey Robinson figure to emerge as early favorites in 3A, but don't discount a return visit by Burlington Central with junior star Stephanie Holthus.
Also in 3A, Payton could return to Normal with 6-2 sophomore Mari Faines, sophomore libero Lauren Lee, freshman outside Michelle Schultz and sophomore setter Roxanne Rivera.
In Class 4A, McAuley welcomes back Jessica Falk, Jessica Galotta, tradition and fiercely stubborn determination, St. Charles returns Meghan and Caroline Niski, Jacqui Seidel, Maisey Mulvey and 6-2 sophomore Olivia Desormey, and Evanston returns outsides Ali Gossen and Megan McCareins.
But another team to watch is Naperville North, which returns a powerful front line of Sidney Sauter, Kaia Schwartz and Audrey Wilson.