After hammering out a 25-10 victory over St. Joseph-Ogden in the first set Friday at the Class 2A state volleyball tournament, the Althoff Crusaders seemed destined for a spot in the state championship match.
That was before St Joseph-Ogden standout Kylie Michael began raining kills down all over Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
The Eastern Illinois University recruit had 18 kills to lead a furious comeback as St. Joseph-Ogden survived that humbling first set defeat and won the next two 25-18, 25-8 to advance to the 2A state title match.
“I think the first game we were all just on a high,” said Katie Allard, Althoff’s senior libero. “We came out early and went on a huge run and really got them out of system. Coming into the second game they stopped making as many errors and really started putting us out of system.
“We couldn’t get ourselves back into system to play the way we wanted to.”
Althoff (23-12) will play Chicago Latin (29-10) for third place at 12:25 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena. The Crusaders’ best finish in state volleyball was second place in 1999.
Althoff coach Sara Dietrich said Michael, a 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter, was definitely the difference in the match. Michael had only one of her 18 kills during the first set, hitting several attempts out or long, then began hammering away at the net to help fuel the comeback.
Eight of her kills came in the dominant third set.
“I thought our girls came out strong the first match and caught them off their guard a little bit,” Dietrich said. “Then that No. 23 (Michael) ... she’s a stud. She’s going Division I and she took control of their team as a Division I player should.”
After falling behind in the second set 7-2, Althoff battled back and took an 18-15 lead. However, the Spartans closed out the match with a 10-0 run that featured two kills and all 10 service points by Michael.
Michael, who also had 12 digs and 18 service points, is the daughter of former Carlyle High and University of Illinois basketball standout Tom Michael. Tom Michael is the athletic director at EIU.
“She was really strong,” Althoff setter Louise Comerford said. “She could hit wherever she wanted to and that really caught us off guard the first game. We stayed aggressive the first game and forced them to make the errors, but we weren’t as aggressive the second and third (sets) — which forced them to be in system and caused 23 (Michael) to go off.”
Althoff got seven kills from freshman Karinna Gall, six from senior Emily Myatt and five from Comerford. Senior Katie Allard had 15 digs for the Crusaders and Comerford, a Miami (Ohio) recruit had 18 assists.
Parker Francisco had 10 kills for St. Joseph-Ogden, which caused more than a few anxious moments for coach Abby McDonald during that first-set defeat.
“They could have easily quit after the first set,” McDonald said. “I knew that they wouldn’t, we haven’t shown that in the postseason at all. They continue to fight no matter what the score is. We knew we had it in us, we just had to get rid of those nerves in the first set.
“I couldn’t be prouder of what they just accomplished.”
Michael now has a chance to be the second member of her family to win a state title. Tom Michael helped lead Carlyle to the 1989 Class A state basketball championship while Kylie’s older brother, McKendree University guard Nate Michael, was part of SJO’s fourth-place basketball finish in 2013.
“I can’t believe I’m playing for a state championship,” said Kylie Michael, who found motivation in a long text she received from her father on Friday morning. “He told me to keep everyone up, to stay motivated and ready. Just be ready and play relaxed and calm.”
What sparked such a dramatic turnaround by the Spartans?
“I think that (Michael) came alive and actually (Francisco) too,” Dietrich said. “Their outsides stepped it up (with) their passing and defense. I don’t know if they were not ready to play the first set or what, but they just picked up their overall game. We struggled a little bit adjusting, but we battled.”