With its high-powered offense a little bogged down, the Althoff Crusaders used a strong defensive effort to move into the Class 3A state title game for second straight year.
Junior all-state middle blocker KarInna Gall led a balanced Althoff attack with eight kills and added a team-high eight digs as the defending state champion Crusaders defeated Chicago Late 25-23, 25-15 in a semifinal match Friday at Redbird Arena.
Beaten by Althoff in the third place match of the 2016 Class 2A third place match, the Romans rallied from a 23-19 deficit in the opening game, tying the score on the second of consecutive kills by Kelsey Watkins.
After hitting a kill up the middle, the Crusaders top offensive player responded with a kill that the Romans player returned into the net on game point. Althoff then rallied from a 13-11 deficit in game two as Gall ended the match on a a 10-point service run.
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“Their offense was really strong and their blocking bothered us early. We went into a liittle panic there for a little bit,’’ Gall said. “ But we were able to get it straightened out.’’
Making their third straight appearance in the state finals and 12th in school history, Althoff (37-4) will take on the Sterling Golden Warriors in the Class 3A state title match on Saturday beginning at 5:30 p.m. Sterling (39-1) defeated Joliet Catholic 27-25, 25-20 in the first semifinal.
The win also means Althoff first-year coach Tony Miner will have a chance to fulfill a promise for the second day in a row. Miner was wearing a big blue and gold bow tie as he met with the media after the match.
“I promised the girls that if we got here, that I would wear a bow tie. Now I get to wear it again,’’ Miner said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be in the state title game. This is something we’ve been talking about since August. I couldn’t be more proud.’’
While Gall had a big night, she wasn’t alone.
Junior Katie Wemhoener added six kills and seven digs, junior Grace Strieker helped get the Crusaders off to a good start with two of her three kills, junior setter Mary Wessel had 15 assists and combined with Abby Lanter for 12 digs and 5-11 junior Nicky Hampton added three blocks as part of Gall’s 10 point service run when Althoff put the Romans away.
“I think the experience of being here last year is a big advantage for us,’’ Strieker said. “We’ve been here and we know what to expect.’’
The Romans got off to a quick start to open the match. A kill by Charlotte Cronister coupled by a pair of Crusaders errors gave Chicago Latin a 4-1 lead. The Romans would lead by three points only one other time during the match as Althoff seized control.
“It’s disappointing because we watched a lot of film on Althoff and we thought we were ready,’’ Cronister said. “We have only ourselves to blame for this loss. We had opportunities. We just had too many hitting errors.”
The Crusaders picked it up on the defensive end midway through the opening game.
“i think a big difference was the way we played defense,’’ Miner said. “We were so aggressive. We picked up so many balls. Plus we were able to sew up our defense in the second set. We were able to slow down some of their big hitters and forced them into the team that made so many errors.’’