They made them fight for every point, volleyball to play for third at state

St. Joseph-Ogden didn't back down.

The grit and teamwork they displayed during their state semifinal match against Mater Dei was undoubtedly one for the ages. Despite the 2-1 loss, SJO's impressive level of perseverance during the match is one future generations of Spartan volleyball players will need to embrace if they wish too ascend to the same stage.

Kennedi Burnett passes the ball during SJO's second set comeback against Mater Dei. The freshman outside hitter had 17 kills in the IHSA semifinal. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
Mater Dei head coach Chad Rakers left no doubt that his team had just finished an epic match.

"That St. Joseph-Ogden team was legit," he said in the post-match presser. "They are a real deal defending team.

The Spartans defensive effort yielded 55 digs during the marathon match. Rylee Stahl led the Spartans with 17 of those digs. Emily Bigger, with seven digs, distributed 32 assists.

"They were a force to be reckoned with," he said. "They made us fight for every point."

Kennedi Burnett led the SJO offense with 14 kills and nine digs. Katelyn Berry added another seven a emotional three-setter that ended 20-25, 25-23, 25-22 in favor of the Lady Knights.

After dropping the first set, the Spartans rallied back from a 8-point deficit to win the set two by two, forcing a deciding third one.

Like her players, Spartan head coach Abby McDonald was disappointed in the outcome, but none the less was proud of how her players fought tooth and nail in the second set as well as the third.

"There are not many teams on this kind of stage make that kind of comeback," McDonald said. "That's what those kids went out and did. They are heroes in my eyes. They're the number one team to us."

The emotional swings were palatable throughout the final set. Neither team backed down or buckled under the intense pressure. Mater Dei's largest lead, one that short-lived, was four points at 12-9.

SJO and the BMD were tied on the scoreboard six times. After the seventh, knotted at 21-all, Mater Dei nudged forward with three unanswered points en route to seize their berth in the title game tomorrow.

Like her players, Spartan head coach Abby McDonald was disappointed in the outcome, but none the less was proud of how her players fought tooth and nail in the second set and their effort in third.

"I am extremely proud of them. They may not feel that right now because it is not the dream and the goal they had," McDonald said. In the locker room she told the players to be proud of what they accomplished and to enjoy the ride. "There are so many schools that don't get this opportunity.

The Spartans will face a super scrappy Rockford Lutheran squad in the third-place contest at around 12:25p tomorrow.

The Lady Crusaders fell in two sets, 25-22, 29-27 to Bulldogs of St. Teresa who will square off with Mater Dei for the Class 2A title.

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