Volleyball goes out with a victory, SJO finishes #3 in the state

Members of the St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball team happily celebrate with their third-place trophy at Redbird arena during the awards ceremony for the Class 2A at the IHSA Girls Volleyball State Finals on Saturday. The Spartans defeated Rockford Lutheran in another exciting three-set match 25-11, 20-25, 25-23. SJO's 2019 run ended today with an impressive 37-5 record. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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.

Mattsey leads SJO at state meet, XC boys finish 18th overall

On the final day of the fall, two days before Monday's nasty snow and ice blanketed central Illinois, the St. Joseph-Ogden harriers ran to an 18th place finish at the Illinois High School Association's State Cross Country Finals at Detweiller Park last Saturday.

Junior Brandon Mattsey, SJO's top runner, completed his race in 15 minutes and 48.78 seconds earning 28 points with his 43rd overall place finish.

Helping the Spartans edge out 19th place Unity, was senior Eric Poe, Charlie Mabry, Elijah Mock and Luke Stegall who earned 421 points. The Rockets finished with 423 points in the team standings.

It was Poe's final cross country event with the Spartans. In the senior's first and only state run, he clocked in at 16.27.75, finishing in 100th place. Nineteen runners later, Mabry concluded his race 13 seconds later at 16:40.19.

Mock and Stegall finished ten runners apart. Coming in at 17:02.52, Mock crossed finish line seven seconds ahead of Stegall's 17:09.99.

Juniors Logan Wolfersberger and Lukas Hutcherson also ran in the season finale. Not in the top five finishers for the Spartans, their results did not count toward overall the team score. Wolfersberger was 175th overall at 17:28.50 while Hutcherson ran over the finish line at 17:46.59 for 184th place.

Soccer seniors made a super effort this fall

Not quite ready for full-fledged membership into the Marvel Cinematic Universe nor recruited by Dr. Charles Xavier for enrollment in his School for Gifted Young Children, Kolton Batty, Luke Cohen, Brayden Grimsey and Zac Seeley, the four seniors on St. Joseph-Ogden's soccer team made a heroic effort to produce a winning soccer season this fall.

Batty, who was named All-Conference First Team, along with an Honorable Mention for Seeley, were recognized as All-Conference players by the Illini Prairie Conference. Seeley was also recognized as the 2019 squad's Most-Valuable-Player at the SJO Fall Sports Awards earlier this week.

The quartet of seasoned and skilled footballers did not reach the level of success they had hoped as a team but will most certainly take the lessons they learned about themselves through the various trials and tribulations they encountered this season to become worthy X-Men or members of the MCU.

The Spartans finished the season with a record of seven wins, 14 losses and four ties. The team lost by two goals or less in seven of their losses.

The four seniors played for a combined 6,038 minutes. Batty was punched in for 1,709 of them.

Back in September after a home game, I interviewed the four about their hero personas. Here is a glance at the soccer team's unsung heroes.

Spartan superhero Luke Cohen

Spartan superhero Brayden Grimsey

Spartan superhero Kolton Batty

Spartan superhero Zac Seeley

Batty makes First-Team all-conference soccer team

All-IPC soccer player Kolton Batty Last week, Kolton Batty was one of three St. Joseph-Ogden soccer team members awarded Illini Prairie all-conference honors. The senior was the Spartans' only First-Team recipient.

Batty, the team's top defensive specialist who appeared in 25 games for SJO this season, scored one goal during several brief forays on the Spartan offense. He scored the only goal in his team's 6-1 loss to Iroquois West at the Cornjerker Classic. He took a total of 13 shots this season.

Also earning all-conference honors were goal keeper Hunter Ketchum (second-team) and Zac Seeley (honorable mention).

Ketchum spent 1,541 minutes defending St. Joseph-Ogden's goal. Only a freshman, he inherited keeper duties from Mason Behrens and finished the season with 145 saves at an average of 6.3 per game.

Seeley, a three-year varsity veteran, scored 11 goals this season and 21 total during his four seasons with SJO. The senior notched a hattrick in the Spartans' 5-1 win over Schlarman in September and recorded 3,066 minutes on the pitch during his career.

SJO stuns Chicago Christian to win Elite 8 title

Just as her older sister in 2016, Kennedi Burrnett will play volleyball on the state's biggest stage under the bright lights of Redbird Arena. The opportunity would not have been possible had it not been for St. Joseph-Ogden's smoldering turnaround midway into the second set of their supersectional match against Chicago Christian last Friday.

Jenna Albrecht and Lacey Kaiser share the thrill of victory with head coach Abby McDonald
Seniors Jenna Albrecht (left) and Lacey Kaiser celebrate their supersectional title win with head coach Abby McDonald.

After dropping the first set 25-15, the Spartans found their groove after a gritty 25-23 second set and playing the brand of volleyball that fueled 20 consecutive match wins, took the third set and the match, 25-16.

"We came out a little hesitant," said Burnett, who like her sister Abby, will play on a final four Spartan volleyball team for the coveted Class 2A state title. "But then we just jumped back into it. We knew this is what we were waiting for all year. We just kept it together."

Burnett tallied a team-high 11 kills. She also came up big defensively with nine digs and two blocks for the Spartans.

"I think my nerves got into my head a little bit," said outside hitter Katelyn Berry. She was confident that her teammates would do what was needed to get the win, but to secure the win she had to step up her game. "I knew for my team I had to make a change."

The timidity felt by the Spartans in the opening set was both palatable and warranted by the way the Chicago Christian's six-foot, one-inch outside hitter Lia Moore was pounding the ball into the back court. The Michigan State recruit, who will become a Spartan herself next fall, couldn't miss.

Another six-footer for the Knights, Logan Grevengoed and the 5-foot-11 Delanie Grevengoed formed a wall above the tape the Spartan could not penetrate easily.

"I thought our opponent did a great job of keeping us out of system," said head coach Abby McDonald. The pace of the rallies was faster than what she and her assistant coaches saw in the film they had at their disposal. "It was really fast and intense. We were on our heels on defense."

Libero Rylee Stahl celebrates a block with teammates.
Rylee Stahl celebrates a point for the Spartans. The senior libero had a team a team-high 19 digs to lead SJO into the Class 2A final four. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
Leading up to a 17-all score in the second set, the score between was tied seven times with the Knights scoring the go-ahead point.

On the eight tie, SJO surged ahead ticking off three unanswered points to get to a 20-17 tilt before Knights' head coach Karen Van Assen called a timeout.

McDonald used the break to inspire her players.

"She just told us to forget about that set. We've been there before and we know how to come back from that," Berry recounted. She was held to just six kills by the Knights. "We know how to come back from that. A new set is a new set."

Holding on to win the second set would put the final match outcome in SJO's favor. Prior to the supersectional, out of the seven three-setters this season, SJO took the match in all but two. The Spartans lost to St. Thomas More and St. Teresa, who will also play a semifinal on Friday, in deciding third sets. SJO won their last five extended matches and the odds were dramatically in their favor if they finish the second set with a win.

"Honestly, I felt Katelyn did really well," senior Stephanie Trame said about Berry's overall performance. "She had a great attitude when she was blocked. She didn't let it get in her head."

Trame was contributed seven of the SJO's 34 match kills.

"We had more energy in the second set and started playing as a team," she added. "We found ourselves."

With their confidence continuing to swell and the combined defensive leadership of Rylee Stahl and Emily Bigger, St. Joseph-Ogden pulled out the second set, 25-23. At libero, Stahl keep the ball in play with a team-high 19 digs. Bigger had 16 and made 26 passes. In one of their best defensive efforts of the season, SJO players combined for 70 digs in the three-setter.

Payton Vallee bouyed the Spartans on both offense and defense as well. In addition to her two digs, the junior along with senior Lacey Kaiser, who notched 8 digs, were co-leaders in blocks at the net with three apiece. Vallee also put away six well-placed kills in the supersectional effort.

Emily Bigger and Stephanie Trame get their hands up
Emily Bigger and Stephanie Trame get their hands up to deflect a shot by Chicago Christian's Olivia Ingelse during first set action on Friday at Chicago Christian High School. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
"We went into the third set with a lot of momentum," McDonald said. "We were in their heads offensively and defensively. They were having to think about every touch on the ball."

Her team jumped out to a modest 4-1 lead to open the final set. Chicago Christian worked their way out of the deficit to tie the game at 4-4 thanks to an ace.

SJO immediately got a sideout and took the lead. They pieced together a five-point run forcing the Knights to burn a timeout staring 9-5 deficit.

When the action resumed, the Spartans continued to exploited the hole it found in the hard-hitting Chicago Christian armor and increased the scoring gap by eight points to 19-11.

"We've got three kids that can swing. We've got a defense that is quick and aggressive," McDonald said about the momentum shift. "I just thought that once we got going and our kids gained some confidence and knew we could compete with them. I knew we could pull it out."

Eleven serves later, the SJO contingent - players, fans and parents - were celebrating a well-deserved victory.

"There are just so many emotions right now," Burnett said. "I'm just so excited. I'm blessed to be with all these people on the court and I couldn't be happier."

Memory Monday: St. Joseph-Ogden wins state semifinal over Althoff Catholic

With this year's SJO volleyball team heading to Redbird Arena later this week to once again compete for the Illinois High School Association's state champion trophy, today's Memory Monday looks back to the volleyball program's final four opener three years ago.

Parker Francisco (left) and Bree Trimble celebrates a point for the Spartans during game one of their state semifinal contest against Althoff Catholic back on November 11 in 2016. The Crusaders jumped out a 5-0 lead and never looked back in the set to spanking SJO, 25-10. However, Francisco, who would finish the first day's battle with 10 kills and 5 digs, and the St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball team let loose and rallied back to take the next two sets advancing to the Class 2A title game against Eureka.

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
St. Joseph-Ogden senior Park Francisco

Jannah Mullen celebrates a third set point for SJO
Oh, yeah!
Jannah Mullen celebrates a point for the Spartans in the final set against the Crusaders. After dropping an ugly first set to Althoff, the Spartans take the final two 25-18, 25-8. Mullen served the team's only ace of the game and finished the Friday semifinal credited with three digs.

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)


Bree Trimble passes the ball to the front row in game one. The sophomore contributed nine digs and two assists in the Friday afternoon victory three years ago today. The Spartans shook off the first set loss and won the next two to take the match and improve their season record to 31-3.

(Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

SJO two-sport athlete Bree Trimble

SJO student fans cheer for their team during set 2.
Members of St. Joseph-Ogden's Maroon Platoon cheer for the volleyball team during second set action. With only four kills in the first set, the student cheering section didn't have much to cheer about. However, their team stormed back to pound 32 bombs in the last two sets to punch their ticket into Saturday's title match against the Eureka Hornets. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Head coach Abby McDonald Senior Kylie Michael celebrates a point for the Spartans
Left: SJO head coach Abby McDonald realigns her players on the floor during set one of SJO's match against Althoff. Right: Senior Kylie Michael leaps with excitement after another point for SJO. Michael led the Spartan offense with at match-high 18 kills and 12 digs. A redshirt freshman during the 2018 season at Eastern Illinois University, she played 68 sets to finish the season with 132 kills along with 115 digs and 26 blocks. (Photos: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Jannah Mullen makes a dig for SJO in 2016
Jannah Mullen lunges to make a dig and keep the ball in play during second set action. She was one of six seniors on the 2016 squad that would go on to place second in Class 2A. Mullen continued her volleyball career at Lakeland College where as a sophomore last year she was named second-team All-Region. She led the team with 520 digs, 19th in NJCAA Division I last November. Check the gallery, online for a limited time only, for more than 100 other photos from this match here: PhotoNews RAW Collection (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Parents and SJO fans cheer for their team during at timeout
St. Joseph-Ogden parents and fans cheer for their team during a timeout in the second set. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Parker Francisco goes up for a block at the net
Reaching for greatness

Parker Francisco leaps above the net to block a Eureka kill attempt. The two-sport athlete's leadership was key in the Spartans advancing to the Class 2A title match on Saturday at Redbird Arena.

Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Bree Trimble and Kylie Michael celebrate with hugs
Spartans Bree Trimble and Kylie Michael share a hug after the conclusion of their third set against the Hornets and with the realization that in 24 hours SJO will be playing for the program's first-ever volleyball state championship title on Saturday. For a limited time only, see more than 100 photos from this match and the championship game later this week at PhotoNews RAW Collection. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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