Few teams in the state can match the offensive weapons that possesses throughout its lineup. But it was the RedHawks’ defense that was the difference-maker Tuesday night.
Behind the blocking of senior middle Kirsten Ivkovic, Marist rallied for a 23-25, 25-16, 25-17 victory over in the Class 4A Sectional semifinals in Tinley Park. This is the second consecutive season that Marist has bounced Mother McAuley from the playoffs, as the RedHawks defeated the Mighty Macs in last year’s sectional championship game.
“We’ve worked on mental and physical resiliency all year,” Marist coach Natalie Holder said. “In order to be successful against those big teams … you literally have to not back down.”
Backed by raucous student sections, both teams started off in rhythm offensively. McAuley’s Sydney McPhillips had four early kills and the Mighty Macs jumped out to an early 12-8 lead in the first game.
Marist had a hard time getting Kelly Marcinek into the flow of the offense. McAuley got a number of deflections at the net off the junior outside hitter’s swings. Marcinek, one of Marist’s main offensive threats, finished the first game with only two kills and McAuley won nine of the last 14 points to take the first game.
But Marist fought back in game two behind the hitting of Mallory Salis and Rachel Dalton, who combined for seven kills. The RedHawks were aided by six McAuley hitting errors and charged to a 15-7 lead before McAuley called its second timeout. Marcinek’s kill down the line evened the match, and Marist had all the momentum heading into the decisive third game.
“It’s McAuley; we wouldn’t expect anything less than three games to be honest,” Ivkovic said.
With Marist clinging to a one-point lead at 13-12, Ivkovic picked a great time to have the best defensive performance of her career. The senior middle hitter had three straight blocks for points and Marist never relinquished the lead again. Ivkovic would add two kills and two more blocks, and Elyse Panick’s kill into McAuley’s blockers sealed the win for Marist.
“ ‘Just do it’ was basically all I could say at the end of that game,” Ivkovic said. “There was nothing else going through my head except how bad I wanted to win. Nothing else.”
Salis led Marist with 13 kills and 12 digs. Ivkovic had seven kills and seven blocks.
McAuley’s Sydney McPhillips had six kills, while Courtney Joyce dished out 32 assists in the loss.
Marist advances to the sectional finals and will face at Andrew on Thursday at 7 p.m. Sandburg was a 25-20, 25-16 winner over Lincoln-Way Central on Tuesday night.
The RedHawks will look to capture their second straight sectional title.
“They are going to enjoy this tonight and then tomorrow when we get in the gym we’re all about [Sandburg] because you can’t look ahead any more than the next match in front of you,” Holder said. “I think this group more than any group has really done a good job of keeping everything in a very good perspective.”