The two best Class 3A teams in southern Illinois met last weekend in the regional final at Centralia when Breese Mater Dei avenged two earlier losses to Belleville Althoff with a 26-24, 25-22 victory.
The two best Class 3A teams - and likely the two best teams regardless of class - in the state meet Thursday night in Wheaton when No. 1-ranked Joliet Catholic (37-1) squares off against No. 2 St. Francis (35-2).
Two years ago, the teams met in a supersectional at St. Francis. That year, the Spartans took advantage of a hobbled Kelly Murphy to advance to the state tournament where they eventually lost to Crystal Lake Central in the finals.
Last year, Joliet Catholic outlasted St. Francis in the Oswego supersectional, overcoming 20 kills by Kelsey Robinson to win 25-23, 25-27, 25-21. The Angels dominated the field in Bloomington, whipping Burlington Central 25-19, 25-14 in the finals.
This year, Joliet Catholic has not lost to an Illinois team, suffering its only loss to Assumption (Ky.) in the finals of the Asics Challenge at Mother McAuley. St. Francis has not lost since losing to Sandburg in the same tournament.
However, none of that will matter Thursday night.
What will it take for St. Francis to stop Joliet Catholic?
"We have to minimize our errors and not get rattled," St. Francis coach Peg Kopec said. "Everybody is going to get their kills. (Joliet Catholic's Annemarie) Hickey is going to get her kills. Kelsey (St. Francis' Robinson) is going to get her kills.
"Then what are you going to do?"
Well, the winner will keep playing. Probably until 8:00 p.m. next Saturday night when it hoists the Class 3A state championship trophy.
Other sectional championship matches of note feature defending Class 4A champion St. Charles East and York at Geneva; Evanston and Glenbrook South at Stevenson; and Mother McAuley and Sandburg at Eisenhower.
York started the season 1-4, but has won 23 of its last 27 including Tuesday's win over ninth-ranked Geneva. Mother McAuley was barely over .500 midway through the season, but has since won 16 of its last 17.
In Class 3A, St. Viator and 2007 state champion Crystal Lake Central collide at Vernon Hills while 2008 semifinalist Payton tries to keep its Bloomington dreams alive when it faces Nazareth in LaGrange Park.