COAL CITY — Having faced a wide variety of styles, the Joliet Catholic Academy volleyball team had an answer for every tactic University High tried in the Class 3A Coal City Sectional final on Wednesday.
The resulting 25-23, 21-25, 25-20 victory for the Angels lifted their record to 26-13 while the Pioneers fell to 29-8. The outcome denied reigning sectional champion U High its 14th sectional title and gave Joliet Catholic its 13th.
Pioneer coach Michael Bolhuis tabbed the Angels’ defense as the deciding factor. The victors were never better than during a 8-0 run to erase a 17-13 deficit in game three.
“That was just really clean defense by them,” Bolhuis said. “They were doing their job and making our attackers’ jobs really difficult. Even in the first set, they did the same thing.”
In game one, U High enjoyed leads of 9-5, 14-10 and 18-15 before Sophie Krzysciak’s kill sparked a 5-1 run to put the Angels on top, 20-19. The see-saw ending featured three ties, the last at 22-22 before JCA’s 5-foot-8 Emily Holbrook had two kills and 6-2 Bella Ray one during a 3-1 game-ending run.
Holbrook, who will be a defensive specialist at Arizona State, finished with 16 kills and 15 digs while 6-0 sophomore Jillian Gray added 11 kills, 12 digs and three blocks.
“(Holbrook) is explosive,” Bolhuis said. “There really isn’t a situation where she doesn’t hit as hard as she can. We did our best to try to get in front of her. She’s a smart hitter. She sees that block and goes after it in good fashion.”
U High trailed in game two, 11-8, when McKendree-recruit Macy Tongate caught fire, providing four kills as the Pioneers pulled into a 13-13 tie. She finished with 10 kills, 16 assists and three blocks.
“Our outsides needed some help from an attacking perspective,” Bolhuis said. “We needed kills to come from a different location. Macy definitely brought that.”
A kill by fellow setter Isabel Schaefbauer, a Winthrop recruit, later put U High ahead to stay at 22-21. That game ended on a Schaefbauer ace followed by a Jessica McDowell kill and a JCA hitting error. Schaefbauer ended with 24 assists.
“Losing sucks a lot, but we left it all out there,” Schaefbauer said. “It was a really fun season.”
U High’s 6-2 Alayna Crabtree finished with 14 kills and 16 digs while the gravity defying 5-6 McDowell had 10 kills.
“That service run at the end where we really couldn’t side-out, that really got us down,” McDowell said. “We’ve had such a great year. Even though it didn’t end as we wanted it to, we still played hard in every game. I’m really proud of our team.”
The Angels advanced to Friday’s 7 p.m. Rich East Super-sectional where they will face Burbank St. Laurence (17-20).
“I think it’s the will of our (five) seniors,” said JCA coach Christine Scheibe. “I don’t know how they do it.
“When I called my one timeout (trailing 12-9 in game three), I told them the momentum has got to shift. They hung in there and got the momentum to shift and that’s all we needed.”
Scheibe was impressed by U High.
“They are a quality team,” she said. “Our schedule has prepared us. U High plays a good schedule, but they are not playing Marist and Benet and Marian Catholic. We finished in fifth place in (the East Suburban Catholic) conference. It prepares these girls for these moments.”
“They have played as difficult of a schedule as you possibly can,” said Bolhuis, who loses three seniors to graduation.
He hopes his team can look back with pride on a season featuring Intercity and Central State Eight Conference titles.
“Those are major accomplishments,” he said. “We’ll look to be competitive again next year.”