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St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball squad cracks Elite 8 with 2-1 sectional championship victory

Herscher staved off four consecutive match points in the third and final set, closing the gap to 24-23, before Spartan Kennedi Burnett sealed the deal for the St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball team at the Class 2A Watseka sectional plaque last night.

Burnett, a sophomore outside hitter, capped the night with a double-double (17 kills, 10 digs) to help the St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball team extend their season two more days and one match, at the very least. After a grueling 25-19, 12-25, 25-23 victory, SJO carried home their second postseason sectional title in three years and advanced to the Palos Heights supersectional.

SJO volleyball senior Class of 2020
St. Joseph-Ogden's magical season is powered by nine seniors on the 14 spot roster that makes up this year's volleyball squad. The Class of 2020 players include (left to right) Katelyn Berry, Lacey Kaiser, Lindsey Aden, Stephanie Trame, Rylee Stahl, Emily Bigger, Jenna Albrecht, Kenly Taylor and Anna Wentzloff. After at 2-1 win over Herscher on Wednesday evening, the Spartans, who will face Chicago Christian on the Knights' home court for the supersectional title, are just one win away from reaching the Illinois High School Association state finals on November 15-16. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

The Spartan win closed the door the Tigers' storybook season after their second-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history. In one of their best seasons in more than a half decade, Herscher (32-6) secured the school’s first regional title since 2012 and a share of the Illinois Central Eight Conference crown with a squad staffed similar to SJO with 10, instead of nine, seniors.

Bringing her A-game to the hardwood, Emily Bigger's passing allowed the Spartan hitting crew of Burnett, senior Katelyn Berry and junior Payton Vallee to stay aggressive enough to smash the ball past their tenacious opponents. Bigger, also a senior and had six digs, was credited with 40 assists.

Berry's vicious swing contributed 10 kills to the Spartan effort. Vallee added another 11. Lacey Kaiser, another senior on the crew, contributed six to round out the attack from the front line.

Another senior, Rylee Stahl, one of the team's three defensive stars, logged 17 digs.

Wednesday night's three-setter win was St. Joseph-Ogden's 35th of the season and kicked their win streak one tick to 20. The last time head coach Abby McDonald won a Sweet Sixteen title, her team placed second at Redbird Arena in the state finals.

Next in their path to a state finals appearance, the Spartans will lock swords with the 32 win, five loss Knights of Chicago Christian Friday evening in Palos Heights. The supersectional match is slated to start at 6:30 p.m. on their opponent's home court.

After their three-set regional semifinal opener against Nobel/Butler, the Knights have given up a total of just 25 points in two matches since then. Chicago Christian also received a bye, courtesy of a double-forfeit, as a result of the Chicago Public School strike last month.

The location suits McDonald just fine who has repeatedly said all season that this year's squad, who are one win away from reaching the IHSA state finals, plays better on the road than at home.

Two of the Spartans' four losses were at home. Of the four, the only team that remains in the postseason is St. Teresa, who faces Orion in the Farmington Supersectional. Champaign Central, St. Thomas More and Mahomet-Seymour have been eliminated from the postseason brackets.

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