The near-perfect season of the Althoff Crusaders volleyball team had a perfect ending Saturday at Redbird Arena.
Sophomore Karinna Gall and senior Addie Burris combined for 15 kills, and Grace Strieker whistled a winner up the line on match point as Althoff captured its first state volleyball championship with a 25-16, 25-23 win over Chicago Resurrection in the Class 3A title match.
Trailing 19-16 in game two, Althoff (41-1) rallied behind a pair of kills each from Burris and Leighten Kaiser to retake the lead. Minutes later, Gall scored her eighth kill of the night. With Strieker on the receiving end of senior setter Louise Comerford’s 26th assist, Althoff clinched an elusive state championship.
Strieker was mobbed by her teammates as the Crusaders piled on each other in jubilation.
“It was an unbelievable moment. I was speechless. I just dropped to my knees in tears,” Comerford said. “We knew early on this season that we had the potential to get here and do this. To have it become a reality after all the hard work we put in is a dream come true.”
The state championship trophy is the first in volleyball for the Crusaders, who made their 11th trip to the state finals this weekend.
Althoff finished second in 1999 when current assistant coach Kathy Wuller led the Crusaders to the runner-up finish in Class AA as their head coach. The Crusaders have also placed third three times and fourth three times.
But on Saturday, the Crusaders took home the big trophy and did so in true Althoff fashion — by spreading the ball to their depth of strong hitters. Gall led the way with eight kills, and Burris chipped in with seven. Strieker, Kaiser, Comerford and Katie Wemhoener added four kills each.
“I’m really almost speechless. I couldn’t be any more proud this volleyball team,” Althoff coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich said. “I wanted this for them, and I wanted this for our volleyball program. But I also really wanted this for my aunt Kathy (Wuller) because I know what it means to her and how long she’s waited for this to happen.
“She has been a huge part of the Althoff program for a long time and a tremendous role model to me. I wouldn’t be where I am without her guidance.”
Gall and the Crusaders wasted little time in taking command over the Bandits (34-9), who were making their first trip to the state tournament. Mary Wessel and Claire Franke each had three-point service runs to put Althoff ahead 7-2. Resurrection would get no closer the rest of the opening game.
“We knew that (Comerford) had signed with Miami of Ohio and that they (Althoff) were 39-1 coming in,” Bandits coach Mike Sopocy said. “We had faced teams that had big hitters all season. But we hadn’t seen a team with as many weapons as Althoff had tonight.
“Comerford does a great job of distributing the ball, and the fact that she is a left-handed setter makes her that much better. She really hurt us.”
Resurrection took a lead in the second game, forcing the Crusaders to rally for their championship sweep.
“We didn’t get nervous when we fell behind in the second game because we had been in that situation before,” Gall said. “We just had to refocus a little bit and play our game. Once we did we were fine.
“I’m just so proud and happy to be part of this team. We made history tonight.”
Welcome home celebration
The Crusaders will be honored in a welcome home celebration at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Althoff Principal Dave Harris said the Crusaders will receive the traditional fire truck ride, which will begin at the high school at 1 p.m. and will continue down Main Street, around the fountain and back to the high school.
A reception will follow in the Althoff gymnasium.