NORMAL — It was a classic volleyball scenario.
One team, in this case Bloomington High School, suffered a total meltdown in game one, which Benet Academy reacted to by taking its foot off the gas in game two before both teams produced a thrilling third game.
When the leather stopped flying, No. 2-state ranked Benet had escaped with a 25-11, 22-25, 25-23 triumph in the Class 4A Normal Community Super-sectional on Friday.
"We didn't play like ourselves," lamented BHS coach Joe Sanders referring to game one. "I would say it was a lot of nerves."
Benet coach Brad Baker knew the real Purple Raiders would come out in game two.
"Game one was a fluke," he said. "We knew that team is really talented. They have some kids on some really high-level club teams.
"Their coach did a great job of adjusting, making some changes. The second set, they flipped where they started their kids (three rotations). They got some different match-ups."
The Purple Raiders, who were making their second Elite Eight appearance in program history, saw a dream season end at 33-5. The only Illinois teams to beat BHS were Benet and University High.
"They are a really great team," Sanders said. "They have such good offense. They play it real cleanly. Oh man, it was a good match."
The Redwings, who have been first three times and second twice in five state trips, improved to 35-5 ahead of next Friday’s 7 p.m. state semifinal against Chicago Marist (37-3) at Redbird Arena.
"Midway through the third set, we changed our defense from rotation — because they started to pick up on things — back to perimeter," Sanders said. "We threw everything at them that we could and it was close. We were right there. I think if a couple things go differently, it could have been us celebrating."
When a delayed call gave Valentina Tabares a kill to put Benet ahead, 24-23, in game three, Sanders would have preferred to replay the point. Tabares then added match point.
"If it's a call that nobody really knows what it should be, then it should be replayed," he said. "I don't think anybody had a good look at it. There were 23 other points we could have done something about.
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"We battled really hard. We could have easily folded our tents up and gone home after the first set and we didn't. We fought hard so I'm proud."
Benet received 16 kills from sophomore Kyla Kenney, one of seven Redwing 6-footers compared to one for BHS. Tabares added 10 kills, while Penn State-recruit Rachel Muisenga had six. Creighton-bound setter Allison Van Eekeren had 40 assists and Notre Dame-recruit Hattie Monson added 23 digs.
"They have hitters in every position, and they don't make a ton of unforced errors," said Sanders, who likes the Redwings' chances to win a fourth state title. "Their defense is about as good of a defense as we've played."
Southern Indiana-recruit Leah Anderson led BHS with nine kills.
"Their defense was amazing," said Anderson, who begins college classes in January. "They always got touches."
Illinois Wesleyan-bound Grace Sanders, the daughter of the BHS coach, added eight kills while Lauren Strange had six, Avery Carr five and Wisconsin-Parkside recruit Lexi Packard five. Carr also had three blocks.
Savvy setter Corinna Jones had 28 assists for the Raiders while Fia Parker chipped in 24 digs.
Benet notched five of its nine aces in game one, which it ended on an 8-1 run. In game two, the Raiders hustled to leads of 10-5 and 17-14 before Benet forced ties at 19, 20 and 21. BHS finished on a 5-1 run featuring two kills by Anderson.
The tension-filled third game had 11 ties beginning at 13-13. Benet's Kenney forced the final three ties with kills from the left side.
"I feel like that was all nerves (in game one)," Grace Sanders said. "We knew we could compete with them, but it was almost like they totally went over our heads. We decided we weren't going to go out that way.
"It's disappointing to lose, but we can definitely say we did a lot. We did impact the program."
Joe Sanders is already missing his seven seniors, who helped land a Big 12 Conference title.
"They are really good kids and they work so hard," he said. "I'm just real proud of how they did."