For the third time this season, the Althoff Crusaders got the better of the Mater Dei Knights in a marathon three-set volleyball match Wednesday at Benton High School. This time, it was for keeps.
Senior Louise Comerford helped break open the decisive third set with a six-point service run as Althoff pulled away for a 22-25, 25-18, 25-15 win in the title match of the Class 3A Benton Sectional.
Pushed to three sets by their longtime rivals twice during the regular season, Althoff (38-1) struggled early against a Mater Dei team determined to pull off the upset. The Knights, getting four kills from junior Morgan Revermann and strong blocking from Mikaela Kues, Riley Pollmann, Carlee Wise and Rylie Johnson, led from start to finish in the first set. And when Althoff sophomore Katie Wemhoener missed a kill on set point, the Knights (27-10-2) were a set away from the sectional title.
But it didn’t happen. With the Crusaders scrambling to get every ball, the momentum of the match changed. Althoff took the lead in the middle of the second set and didn’t trail again as it moved into the Salem super-sectional.
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“I think we felt a little bit of pressure coming out in the first game. We were tight, and we just didn’t move and play like we had all year. Yes, we were nervous,” a relieved Althoff senior Louise Comerford said. “But we were also confident that we could come back like we had all season.
“We just had to regain our focus because we didn’t want this to be the end of our season.”
With the win, Althoff moves into the Salem super-sectional Friday at Salem High School. The Crusaders will take on Mount Zion at 6 p.m., with the winner advancing to the Class 3A state tournament Nov. 10-11 at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Mount Zion defeated Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 25-22, 25-20 on Wednesday to win the Effingham sectional. But playing Mount Zion was the last thing on the mind of Althoff coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich following the comeback win Wednesday.
“I really don’t know much at all about Mount Zion. We’ve been saying this all year, but one match at a time,” Thomas-Detrich said. “We were nervous at first, and our confidence wasn’t as high as it has been.
“Once we got the momentum going our way, I think we relaxed, and the girls went out and played the way they had all year. Volleyball is such a game of momentum.”
Mater Dei led early in the second set as Pollmann and Wise hammered down winning kills, but with sophomore Karinna Gall beginning to find the range, Althoff took the lead on consecutive kills by Gall. The second one put Althoff up 16-14. Mater Dei never led again.
“I thought we played very well. We just couldn’t get over the edge against them,” Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers said. “It’s just very ... frustrating to come so close.”
Gall, who led Althoff with 14 kills, fired up herself and her team early in the third set with a block at the net. That play gave the Crusaders a 2-1 lead.
Minutes later it was Comerford, who finished with 45 assists, who put the match away. A block by senior Addie Burris, followed by two kills by Wemhoener helped Althoff put the match out of reach.
Wemhoener added 10 kills, and Leighten Kaiser chipped in with nine kills for the Crusaders.