All sectionals are created equal, but some sectionals are more equal than others

Sectionals.

The part of the state volleyball tournament that separates the women from the girls.

Every match is a potential trap. Take one team lightly, and you go home. It’s like the semifinals of a high-stakes regular-season tournament, but there is no third-place game and chance for redemption for the loser.  The Illprepvb.com Top 20 already lost two teams at the regional level, and how many more will fall by the wayside come next Wednesday?

Nobody, not even the best of the best, can afford to look beyond today.

“We only talk one day at a time,” said Minooka coach Carrie Prosek, who guided the Indians to a second-place finish in 2016 and whose team faces loftier expectations in 2017. “That’s really what I focus on. We focus on the team we’re playing that day. We don’t talk about state.

“This group has a lot more pressure than other teams because obviously everybody’s expecting something,” she added. “We don’t talk about that. I tell them not to read the papers, just go out and play the match that we have that day, play for themselves and for the team.”

Several bonafide state title contenders will be sitting on the sidelines in a few days. That’s the unfortunate reality of a system based on geography, not on ability. The trick is to not be one of those teams on the outside looking in.

“Our ultimate goal is to go to state, but when the team has as much pressure as this one I don’t want them reading and feeding off of everything,” Prosek said. “We just need to worry about playing our game and not worry about what everyone else is doing.”

Here is a look at some of the most loaded sectionals in the state:

Class 4A
Aurora (Waubonsie Valley) Sectional
Monday, October 30
Match 1 at 5:30 pm: Minooka (35-2) vs. Naperville North (30-7)
Match 2 at 6:30 pm: Benet (31-6) vs. Waubonsie Valley (24-13)

Wednesday, November 1
Match 3 at 6:00 pm: Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2

Minooka’s late-season loss to Edwardsville may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Indians, who have rarely been challenged since an early-season loss to No. 1-ranked Marist. But the Waubonsie Valley field is loaded and Minooka will have to bring its “A” game to advance to the supersectional. Naperville North, which suffered a mid-season lull, avenged an earlier loss to Metea Valley in the regional final behind junior Sarah Kushner’s 17 kills. “At the beginning of the year, we saw a lot of success because we had a very experienced group of returners,” Naperville North coach Jen Urban said. “Our competition started to pick up during the second half of the season. Our tougher conference matches were during the second half of the season, as were our tougher tournaments. But it’s exciting to see the girls playing their best volleyball when it matters the most.” Waubonsie Valley upset Joliet Catholic for the second time in three weeks in the regional final. Benet has state tournament pedigree winning three of the last six state titles and now features a healthy Claire Byrne, who sat out late-season losses to Marist and Marian Catholic.

Chatham (Glenwood) Sectional
Monday, October 30
Match 1 at 5:30 pm: O’Fallon (30-6) vs. Edwardsville (29-5)
Match 2 at 6:30 pm: Pekin (29-7) vs. Normal Community (31-5)

Wednesday, November 1
Match 3 at 6:00 pm: Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2

Edwardsville is the favorite here. Anyone who watched the Tigers at St. Charles East’s Scholastic Cup had to wonder if they could compete with some of the state’s elite programs. But a few weeks after getting run over by Minooka at the Great Lakes Center, they bounced back to beat the Indians at the Lyons tournament. “Edwardsville dug the crap out of us,” Prosek said. “They did awesome. The first time we played them, we just hit all our shots. This time, they started digging us and my girls started making hitting errors. Edwardsville dug us and killed us on their offense by tipping.” Edwardsville and O’Fallon are no strangers to each other, having met in a Southwestern Conference match won by the Tigers in three grueling sets. Normal Community is the biggest threat to Edwardsville here. The Ironmen are led by 6-3 Purdue recruit Grace Cleveland. Pekin needed three sets to clinch back-to-back regional titles for the first time in program history. The Dragons beat Bloomington behind Hannah Thompson’s 16 kills and 13 digs.

Tinley Park (Andrew) Sectional
Monday, October 30
Match 1 at 5:30 pm: Marist (36-1) vs. Lincoln-Way East (26-10)
Match 2 at 6:30 pm: Marian Catholic (29-7) vs. Sandburg (29-8)

Wednesday, November 1
Match 3 at 6:00 pm: Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2

Marist has been ranked No. 1 most of the season after beating Minooka at the Plainfield North tournament. The only blemish on the RedHawks’ record is a 25-20, 25-17 loss at Mother McAuley on September 12 which cost them their top ranking. But McAuley’s loss to Joliet Catholic at the Asics Challenge propelled Marist back into the No. 1 spot. Six-foot setter Molly Murrihy, outside hitter Savannah Thompson and super sophomore Camryn Hannah power Jordan Vidovic’s team. Lincoln-East East has dropped two matches to Marian Catholic and beaten Sandburg twice, but in its only meeting with Marist was handled 25-17, 25-14. The Griffins still can’t be taken lightly with 6-1 senior Hannah Lesiak and 6-2 senior Haley Hart. Marian Catholic boasts 6-2 junior Temitayo Thomas-Ailara, a win over McAuley and a three-set loss to Marist on September 19. Sandburg beat Marian Catholic back on August 26 and has 6-foot junior Emily Staunton (342 kills). The winner gets Mother McAuley playing on its home court in the supersectional.

Class 3A
Galesburg (H.S.) Sectional
Monday, October 30
Match 1 at 5:30 pm: LaSalle-Peru (32-3-1) vs. Peoria Notre Dame (23-13)
Match 2 at 6:30 pm: Limestone (31-4) vs. Sterling (35-2)

Wednesday, November 1
Match 3 at 6:00 pm: Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2

If they reach the championship match, LaSalle-Peru and Sterling will meet for third time this season. Both teams won on their home floor. Sterling’s only other loss was a 26-24, 25-12 setback to Joliet Catholic on August 25. The Golden Knights’ kill leader is 6-foot-1 freshman Brooklyn Borum, but older sister 6-foot junior Josilyn Borum trails by only a handful of kills. Five-foot-8 sophomore Kamryn Olson is LaSalle-Peru’s main threat with 293 kills heading into the state tournament. Six-foot-1 junior Marisa Giusti is also a weapon in the middle. Limestone won its fifth regional in six years behind Brittany Robinson, who had 14 kills in a 25-14, 25-20 win over Morton. Laney Chiaravalle added 28 assists. Peoria Notre Dame won its  third straight regional championship behind Meghan Suelter’s 8 kills, Janey Schlicksup’s 23 assists and Rachel Kottoor’s 18 digs.

Elmhurst (Timothy
Christian) Sectional

Monday, October 30
Match 1 at 5:30 pm: Resurrection (28-8) vs. Fenwick (19-14)
Match 2 at 6:30 pm: Montini (21-10) vs. Trinity (23-14)

Wednesday, November 1
Match 3 at 6:00 pm: Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2

It’s time to learn whether Montini’s brutal schedule – which includes losses to Class 4A sectional semifinalists Minooka, Lincoln-Way East, Naperville North and New Trier – was beneficial or a confidence-breaker. In a season where there are few outstanding middle hitters and even fewer teams that rely on their middles, the Broncos are a middle-dominant team led by 5-11 senior Michelle Glover and 5-11 junior Johanna Kingsfield. Perennial basketball powerhouse Trinity cannot be taken lightly. The Blazers toppled Glenbard South and 6-3 junior Maggie Bair 25-20, 20-25, 25-22 in the regional final. Ken Uhlir’s crew is on a roll, winning 20 of their last 26 matches after dropping eight of their first 11. Five-foot-9 senior Brittany Welch powers the Bandits of Resurrection. She hung 18 kills on Fenwick in a three-set victory over the Friars back in late September. Fenwick took its lumps in the tough East Suburban Catholic Conference, but the Friars have a pair of aces in 6-foot junior Mackenzie Moorman and senior outside Margaret Planek.

Class 1A
Brimfield Sectional

Monday, October 30
Match 1 at 5:30 pm: Kewanee Wethersfield (35-0) vs. West Prairie (25-10)
Match 2 at 6:30 pm: Hartsburg-Emden (31-6) vs. LaMoille

Wednesday, November 1
Match 3 at 6:00 pm: Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2

Kewanee Wethersfield puts its unbeaten season on the line against a field loaded with perennial Class 1A powers. The Flying Geese — led by Brittney Litton, Tori Rashid, Charlotte Pillen and Mackenzie Lindstrom – aren’t very tall, but they are extremely athletic. Wethersfield opens with defending state champion West Prairie, which is led by setter Cora Vyhnanek, who had 24 assists and 13 digs in the Cyclones’ regional win over Augusta Southeastern. West Prairie has advanced to the state tournament three times in the last nine years under coach Teri Paul. Anna Hayes had 19 kills as tiny Hartsburg-Emden won its third regional in four years over Lewistown. The Stags won a state title in 2006 and finished second in 2015. LaMoille/Ohio got 14 kills and 17 digs from Lexi Loftus in its regional championship victory.

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