Marist’s 5-foot-10 outside hitter Maggie Meyer provided the answer.
“We spend a lot of time just being very disciplined in everything we do,” she said. “Staying focused, making sure we’re one unit, focusing on ourselves rather than who’s across the net from us, and just trying to improve ourselves.”
There was little need for improvement in Meyer’s game Saturday. The senior had a team-high 12 kills to lead Marist (15-1) to a 25-22, 20-25, 25-23 victory over Benet in the championship game of the 11th annual Wheaton Classic.
Savannah Thompson’s kill ended the marathon match, but it was Meyer who guided Marist to its second tournament title in two tries.
“Benet’s got a great defense,” she said. “It’s definitely hard to score against them. My passers and setter did a great job of opening up the court for me so I could see the court and get some openings. That’s all to my teammates.”
Marist trailed throughout much of the first two sets, falling behind 9-5, 13-9 and 19-15 in the first and 19-13 in the second. But the RedHawks rallied in Game 1 and finished on a 10-3 run capped by a Grace Green ace and a Benet hitting error.
“We just toughed out some points, which is really good,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “It’s hard to simulate those situations in practice, which is why these tournaments are great for us.”
But nothing feels better than beating a bitter East Suburban Catholic Conference rival.
“We know there’s always a little bit added to the game whenever these two schools play each other,” Vidovic said. “That’s really built up over the last couple years, which makes it really fun. You really wouldn’t expect anything less.
“It doesn’t matter who’s got who, when we play each other it can be really, really tough,” he added. “It goes back and forth and you have to gut out some points and that’s what we did. Both sides are really strong on defense and both teams made each other sweat a little bit. We carried our momentum a little bit through in that third game.”
Vidovic said that he was glad to see some of the things he talked to his team about following the loss at McAuley translate onto the court Saturday.
“Probably the best part of this match is that we knew we were going to be right back up against it,” he said. “(McAuley and Benet) are similar style teams. We talked about things for two days, and in those situations we had to be better and mentally we had to be a little bit more even keel. We saw that first hand today in the points.
“Not just talking about it, not just saying we had to do better but actually seeing us score points that we didn’t score that night by changing our mental state a little bit, being a little bit more prepared that we needed to be defensively,” Vidovic added. “So it was good to see that right away. It was a good bounce back for us.”
Benet, meanwhile, is trying to plug a hole in the middle of its lineup (5-9 junior Anna Paoni, the only middle listed on the roster, has missed all of the season with an injury) with a sophomore outside hitter and a junior outside hitter playing just her fifth match in the middle Saturday. Marist exploited Benet’s inexperience in the middle.
“It’s the little things they’re not used to seeing,” said Benet coach Brad Baker, whose team coasted past Wheaton North (25-9, 25-19) and Sandburg (25-16, 25-13) to reach the title game. “You can’t really blame them because they’re so new. It’s a brand new position for them.
“(5-10 junior) Caitlin McKee never played middle in her life,” he added. “There’s a huge learning curve. She feels bad about it, but she shouldn’t. There’s a learning curve and she’ll get better, which is good. If we shut some of that down this is a different match.”
Marist got 41 assists from Molly Murrihy, 8 kills and 3 blocks from Katie Hogan, 8 kills from Camryn Hannah and 23 digs from Green.
Alli Van Eekeren had 36 assists, Hattie Monson had 18 digs, Lilly Johnson had 13 kills and Claire Byrne added 11 kills for Benet (14-1).
“It’s frustrating that we lost,” Johnson said. “It’s bittersweet. We’re going to come back fighting. I know we are. We’ll work hard in the gym. We’re going to sleep. We’re going to eat right. We’re going to do everything we can so the next time we can get them.”
Johnson is a four-year varsity veteran who has watch Benet drop its last three matches against its conference counterpart.
“Losing to Marist really gets to me,” she said. “I fired everybody up for the second game and I guess I didn’t get them up for the third game. I take that on myself.”