All season long, the St. Joseph-Ogden High School volleyball team has risen to the occasion.
The Spartans did so again on Friday night. Their reward? A trip to the state tournament.
SJO rallied to defeat Chicago Christian 15-25, 25-23, 25-16 in a Class 2A super-sectional match on Chicago Christian’s home court in Palos Heights, clinching a spot at next weekend’s state tournament.
The Spartans (36-4) move on to face Breese Mater Dei (32-9) at noon next Friday in a 2A state semifinal match at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Sophomore Kennedi Burnett supplied 11 kills and nine digs for the Spartans against Chicago Christian, while senior Emily Bigger delivered a double-double of 26 assists and 16 digs. Fellow seniors Rylee Stahl (19 digs) and Lacey Kaiser (three blocks) also chipped in.
“We are so incredibly close,” SJO senior Katelyn Berry said. “There are nine of us seniors who have been playing together for such a long time. This group of girls are some of my favorite people, so it feels incredible to do this with all of them.”
SJO will make its third-ever trip to the state tournament and will try to come away with its first ever state championship. The Spartans placed second in 2A in 2016 and reached the Class A state quarterfinals in 2001 under the old two-class system.
This particular senior class for SJO, though, knows what postseason success is all about. In 2016 when they were in eighth grade, they won a junior high state championship.
“Ever since eighth grade when we won the state championship, we’ve wanted to do that since then,” Bigger said. “It’s just great to do that at this level.”
The Spartans were tested throughout the regular season, with all four of their losses to respected opponents. St. Teresa, who SJO lost to in three sets during its season opener on Aug. 27, will join SJO at the 2A state tournament after the Bulldogs defeated Orion in three sets on Friday night in a super-sectional match in Farmington. St. Teresa (34-5) will meet Rockford Lutheran (35-3) in the other 2A state semifinal at 1:30 p.m. next Friday, with the 2A third-place match set for 12:25 p.m. next Saturday and the 2A state championship match set for 1:55 p.m. next Saturday.
SJO’s other three losses all happened to 3A programs in Mahomet-Seymour, Champaign Central and St. Thomas More. Mahomet-Seymour and STM each won regional titles, while Central advanced to a regional title.
And since SJO suffered a sweep against STM on Sept. 28, the Spartans haven’t lost and will carry a 21-match win streak into the state tournament. Where this historic SJO program will look to add even more history to an already memorable season.
“Most of them have been playing together ever since fourth grade,” SJO coach Abby McDonald said. “Not only do they have a high volleyball IQ, but they have a true love for the game. As a coach, that’s any coach’s dream to have kids who love the sport as much as you do. With their knowledge, it allows us to give them any challenge offensively or defensively and know that they’re going to figure it out. “