By Randy Whalen
Special to Illprepvb.com
Coming off its first loss of the season, St. Francis not only wanted to regroup, the Spartans wanted to show they were still a top team.
The Spartans did exactly that.
Coming up with some huge plays down the stretch, St. Francis defeated Marist, 25-17, 25-23, in a scintillating matchup Tuesday on Chicago’s south side.
St. Francis (24-1) was coming off a 25-16, 25-13 home loss to Lake Park on Friday, while the RedHawks lost, 19-25, 25-17, 25-19, the same night at Glenbard West in a rematch of the most recent state title tilt in 2019.
“These guys wanted to come out and prove they were a top team against another top team on that team’s home floor,” St. Francis coach Mike Lynch said. “We had three great days of practice after that loss and our guys knew they couldn’t start slow.
“(Marist coach) Jordan (Vidovic) set these matches up months ago. We knew coming in here it was going to be another good match.”
KJ Glab led the way Monday with 11 kills. But the outside hitter had plenty of help from his fellow senior teammates, especially at the end.
Marist had come back from an early 8-1 deficit in the second set to take a 17-15 lead. Five ties followed from 17-17 through 21-21. St. Francis had 6 aces on the night, but served into the net to give the RedHawks a 22-21 lead.
That’s when senior outside hitter Cole Hansen (5 kills, 3 aces, 6 digs) stepped up and banged a kill and followed with his only block of the night for a Spartans lead.
Middle hitter Aiden Benson (5 kills, 2 blocks) then had a booming block of a Nyherowo Omene attempt to move the Spartans to within a point of victory.
Omene (10 kills, 3 blocks) answered with a kill to pull Marist within 24-23. But Benson bopped the match-winning kill moments later and St. Francis celebrated a big victory.
“I didn’t want to go three, especially coming off of a loss,” Benson said. “We just had to compose ourselves.”
Benson, Glab, Hansen and setter Kevin Schuele (22 assists, 2 blocks, 3 digs) have been on varsity together since they were freshmen.
“These four guys came up to the varsity as freshmen, and that experience shows,” Lynch said. “That especially helps our setter.”
Hansen was happy to be one of the go-to guys down the stretch for Schuele.
“In these tight games, especially against a team like Marist, it’s going to come down to a few plays,” Hansen said. “A lot of us have been together since freshman year. We were able to buckle down and come through.”
Kellen O’Keefe, a junior outside hitter, opened the match with a kill for Marist. That was the RedHawks’ only lead of the opening set. St. Francis led 11-9 when it used a 9-3 spurt to pull away.
Monday’s loss marked the first time the RedHawks have dropped back-to-back matches since the second day of the Wheaton Classic Tournament on April 1, 2017.
“They were coming off a loss and so were we,” Vidovic said. “But they were fired up and are a good team.”
BY THE NUMBERS: St. Francis was led by KJ Glab’s 11 kills. Cole Hansen added 5 kills, 1 block, 3 aces and 6 digs, Aiden Benson contributed 5 kills and 2 blocks, Kevin Schuele distributed 22 assists to go with 2 blocks and 3 digs, and Danny Smithers added 8 digs, 2 assists and an ace. Nyherowo Omene led the RedHawks with 10 kills and 3 blocks. Marty Canavan added 5 kills and 2 blocks, Kellen O’Keefe had 3 kills and 2 blocks, Neil Riggio chipped in 7 assists and 6 digs, and Clancy Conor dealt 12 assists.
THEY SAID IT: “They served tough from the line and early on we weren’t ready for that pace. It just seemed hard for us to get in a rhythm. Then we worked ourselves back, but it took so long that it was hard to sustain.” – Marist coach Jordan Vidovic.
THEY SAID IT: “Sure, everyone thinks girls’ volleyball when they think of St. Francis. They’ve won state championships, and now that’s the goal for us. We want to leave a legacy.” – St. Francis senior middle hitter Aiden Benson.
DID YOU KNOW? Monday’s match was the second time the two teams have met this season. The Spartans won the earlier meeting, 21-25, 26-24, 25-16, on May 10 in Wheaton.
ON THE RECORD: St. Francis (24-1 overall); Marist (21-3 overall)
By Randy Whalen