It's been a long time coming for and nine-year coach Natalie Holder. The RedHawks have had their share of success over the years, but they had never earned a trip to the state finals.
That changed on Saturday as Marist rallied from a 19-14 deficit in Game 3 and disposed of Lyons 25-22, 21-25, 25-23 to win the Hinsdale South Supersectional and advance to the Class 4A girls volleyball state finals tournament.
The RedHawks will face either Stevenson or Cary-Grove in a state semifinal match at approximately 9 p.m. on Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
"To think we started nine years ago and we had just freshmen against seniors and we were getting our (butts) kicked," Holder said. "(Former Marist standout) Abby Nelson said, with all her success at the University of Illinois in leading the Big 10 in blocks her sophomore year, with tears in her eyes yesterday (she) said that this was the first sectional championship she's ever won. So to me, this today was about all the girls that came before them."
Marist (34-6) never trailed in Game 1. Lyons stayed close the entire contest and had 13 opportunities to take a lead, but on each occasion it was the RedHawks who scored a point and pulled ahead by one. Marist eventually pulled away late, scoring three consecutive points to close out a 25-22 victory.
The RedHawks appeared ready to make it a short afternoon for the Lions in Game 2, taking a 16-10 lead on a Rachel Dalton kill. Rather than succumb to the momentum they were up against, Lyons closed out the game on a 15-5 run to win 25-21.
"I think we responded well to the pressure," Lyons coach Joann Pyritz said. "I have two 14-year-olds playing at any given time and a 16-year-old at any given time. In terms of how the team responded to pressure, I thought they were excellent."
The RedHawks didn't let losing the big lead in Game 2 get them down.
"We knew deep down that because we're so driven that no matter if we went two or three games we were going to do it," Dalton said. "We weren't going to have that regretful feeling that we had from last year. We knew we would pull it out in the end."
After jumping to an early 4-0 lead in Game 3, the Redhawks again weren't able to maintain it as Lyons clawed its way back to draw even at 9-9 before turning a 15-12 advantage into a 19-13 lead. What would it take for the RedHawks to overcome a six-point deficit late in Game 3?
"Perspective and focus on our side," Holder said. "You can't get caught up in the emotions of the other team. You have to be mentally resilient and focus on what your job is."
And you have to listen to your coach.
"I give them a lot of credit, because they trusted me and they did everything I told them to do," Holder said. "I am so proud of this group. They literally followed direction. They believed everything we told them."
Back-to-back kills by Mallory Salis (16 kills, 10 digs, 8 blocks) pulled the RedHawks to within 15-19. Shortly thereafter, kills from Salis, Kelly Marcinek (15 kills, 8 blocks, 7 digs) and a dump shot from Dalton got the RedHawks to within 18-20.
"We work on tight game situations in practice so we were mentally prepared for this," Dalton said. "Even when we got down we knew nothing could get in our way."
A kill from Marcinek gave the RedHawks a 22-21 lead—their first lead in Game 3 since they were up 4-0. The Lions tied it at 22-all, but the RedHawks would score two straight points to take a 24-22 advantage. Elyse Panick (8 blocks) sealed the victory with a kill.
While kills are great for highlight films, the overall defensive effort of the RedHawks was pivotal to their rallying to victory.
"Defense, defense, defense," Holder said. "It's all we work on. I'm a little obsessed because at some point that's what's going to win."
It also helps to have a seventh person on your side—in this case, a boisterous traveling crowd of students who did their part to motivate the Redhawks.
"That's our ‘seventh man,’ and I'd be a fool not to mention that," Holder said. "That helps when you look up and see a sea of red and they're smiling even when you're down. With a wall like that, it would be selfish of me not to mention them."
Ashley Holder led the RedHawks with 43 assists, while Carolyn Yerkes had a team-best 18 digs.