We could say let the debate begin, but it’s been raging ever since Padua Franciscan lost in the Division 1 final of the Ohio state championships. The Bruins’ only defeat opened the door as to who should finish the season No. 1 in VolleyballMag.com’s national high school rankings.
We addressed it in our last report, as the signs pointed out west toward the California state champion and whether or not a team from SoCal could claim it. The other serious arguments came from Illinois, where Marist and Benet Academy were putting together compelling cases. A week later, the picture is much clearer.
Benet Academy topped Marist this past weekend in the Class 4A state semifinals before going on to capture the state’s top division. There’s more on Benet Academy below, as we checked in with Redwings coach Brad Baker about the team’s remarkable campaign.
In the West, the California Open Division state title comes down to Torrey Pines (So Cal) and Marin Catholic (Nor Cal). Torrey Pines defeated Mater Dei on Tuesday night to advance and there’s more on that match below as well, as VolleyballMag was on hand watching it play out.
By Saturday night we’ll have the full scope when it comes to the national championship picture. It’s extremely difficult to argue for anyone other than Torrey Pines or Benet Academy at this point. Winning a state title is a virtual prerequisite when it comes to winning a national championship. So it could be as simple as if Marin Catholic upsets Torrey Pines on Saturday, Benet takes the top spot by default.
If Torrey Pines wins out, it’s a matter of two things. One, is the case of travel. Two, is the wins and losses. Torrey Pines traveled to the Durango Fall Classic. Benet Academy (41-1) is not able to travel. However, Marist did travel and Marist holds victories over three state champions in Skutt Catholic of Nebraska, Cardinal Mooney of Florida and Nation Ford of South Carolina. Benet went 2-1 against Marist this season, with its only loss to Marist. Benet did not play Sterling, the Class 3A state champ from Illinois. But the Redwings swept Joliet Catholic – the 3A runner up – twice.
There is no denying Torrey Pines has the more impressive lineup of victories. Torrey Pines went 3-0 against Cathedral Catholic, the Durango Fall Classic champion. Torrey Pines also is 1-0 against, Redondo Union, Marymount and Mater Dei. Marymount finished first at the Nike TOC in Phoenix, while Redondo Union was this year’s CIF Southern Section champion. Mater Dei owns a victory over Kentucky state champion Assumption. Torrey Pines also has beaten Episcopal of Texas, which won the small private school tournament, and Hamilton of Arizona, which made the state quarterfinals in the top division there. And Torrey Pines has a victory against Kamehameha, the state champion in Hawai’i’s top division.
If anything, it’s the two losses that would derail Torrey Pines’ case for being No. 1. The Falcons lost to La Costa Canyon and Vista Murrieta. The Falcons came back to beat LCC in the second meeting to avenge that setback. The loss to Vista Murrieta looked bad at the time, but it has become better since Vista Murrieta has advanced to the California Division 1 state final, where it’ll face Campolindo of Nor Cal on Friday.
We’ll know where it all stacks up shortly.
Benet Academy’s roster features senior libero Hattie Monson (Notre Dame), senior outside Sophie Gregus (Illinois) and junior setter Rachel Muisenga (Penn State). That is enough talent to conclude the Redwings were going to be among the best in the country. But Coach Baker wasn’t sure where the Redwings were going to fit in the state of Illinois let alone the entire nation when it all began.
“No way I expected us to have the season we did,” he said. “I knew we would be good with the kids we had coming back. But no way did I ever think we would do what we did, especially in the state playoffs.”
Benet’s situation was similar to that of Padua Franciscan. The Bruins earned what was perceived as their biggest victory of the season, taking down Mount Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Division 1 state playoffs. Beating St. Francis DeSales in the final was viewed more as a formality but St. Francis DeSales pulled off the upset and kept Padua from a national championship.
Marist (37-3) and Benet split a pair of contests prior to the third and decisive meeting in the state semifinal. Benet beat Marist 2-1 on Sept. 21, while Marist swept 2-0 on Oct. 22. It was all Benet last Friday though, as the Redwings swept, 25-12, 25-23. Benet wasn’t taking anything for granted at that point and wasn’t going to get caught off guard in the final. That left Wheaton-Warrenville South (33-9) fighting uphill as Benet swept 25-12, 25-16 to finish on top of Illinois’ highest division.
Benet took care of business so handily in the final the stats were kept in check. Gregus led the way with eight kills while Kyle Kenney and Anna Marie Remmes each had four. Kenney put up 14 digs and Monson 11, with Muisenga dolling out 21 assists.
“If you were reading the papers and listening to what people were saying, whoever won (the semifinal) match that was really the state title,” Baker said. “The only close match Wheaton had was against Huntley, so we didn’t really know how well they were playing or not. They did take a set off of us earlier so we knew they could beat us.”
While we outlined Benet’s case for a national championship in the opening, another point of consideration is the fact that Illinois teams play a best two-of-three format. It makes it difficult to run the table and go undefeated because there’s a higher chance of upsets. Typically, the longer a match goes, the better team is going to prevail. That’s why Baker said no team has gone unbeaten in Illinois in that format since the early 80s. It’s also why he was so impressed that his team swept its way through the state playoffs.
Benet wasn’t far from perfection. The Redwings were 34-0 entering their second showdown with Marist but couldn’t come out ahead to preserve their unblemished mark.
“The talk of going undefeated, I don’t know if that played a part in that match,” Baker said. “People started talking about it but I didn’t really sense we were nervous. They wanted to go 42-0. They didn’t want to lose.
“It was a really dominant season, one of the best I’ve seen an Illinois team have. I don’t think they realized how good of volleyball they were playing and that’s probably why they were playing so well.”
Class 3A Final: Sterling Catholic (36-6) swept Joliet Catholic (26-15) 25-16, 25-19, to repeat as the 3A champion. Brooklyn Borum sent down 16 kills and Grace Eagan added 11 winners as Sterling finished the season winning 20 of its last 21 outings.
A rare wet night in San Diego wreaked havoc on Torrey Pines and Mater Dei as they contested their Open Division state semifinal Tuesday. Torrey Pines took the first set rather easily as Mater Dei looked to gain its figurative footing.
Then, in set two, Mater Dei was simply trying to keep its literal footing. A leak from the roof surfaced, drip, drip, dripping in zone six on Mater Dei’s side of the court and halting action. A red towel remained in place for nearly a half hour as refs, coaches and school officials determined what to do with the safety hazard.
Options on the table were to postpone the match until Thursday, causing Mater Dei to make the 80-mile drive once more, or find a nearby high school that could unlock its gym and have the match resumed there.
One was found, Canyon Crest Academy located just down the road. The announcement was made that the match was being moved there and would start within an hour. Students rushed out the door, parents and fans gathered their belongings and the Mater Dei players headed to the bus for essentially the second road trip of the day.
Before long, the nets were set up at the new site, the scoreboard plugged in and the Torrey Pines student section all dressed in black in place and making itself known once more.
Finally, it was game on again.
For Mater Dei (30-6) that meant just a few more sets to its season before Torrey Pines (38-2) pulled that plug with a four-set victory, 25-17, 23-25, 25-23, 25-20. It gives the Falcons a chance at their first state title. Torrey Pines reached the state final in 1992-93 and 2001, finishing runner up all three times. Coach Brennan Dean, who’s making his first appearance at the helm, said he’s thankful for the opportunity after being so close in the past to representing So Cal in the championship match.
“We had alumni at the match (last night) from seven years ago,” Dean said. “We had former head coaches watching. This is a community, a school, where we aren’t just trying to win for us but all of these other people. There are all these circles and pockets of people that have been part of this program and helped build it.”
Mater Dei was seeking its second consecutive Open Division title but there was too much Torrey Pines for the Monarchs to handle Tuesday night. Maya Satchell (15 kills), Megan Kraft (14 kills), Delaynie Maple (11 kills), Trinity Durfee (11 kills) and Sophia Callahan (10 kills) all took turns hurting Mater Dei as Carly Diehl racked up 52 assists.
Dean credited his team for staying composed during all the excitement of the delay and changing locations. Torrey Pines players reverted to their pre-game dance routine as they waited on a decision. Dean told them to embrace the adversity and make the most of it.
Now, Torrey Pines takes on Marin Catholic on Saturday with a possible national championship in the balance. Marin Catholic (35-3) is no slouch, having reached the semifinals of the Durango Fall Classic, so nothing is guaranteed.
“Our game plan is to play pretty clean and not to make a lot of errors in a row,” Dean said. “We try to forget about the last point and we are very balanced.”
Another weekend, more state titles. In Colorado, Chaparral (27-2) capped an incredible run by knocking off Valor Christian (25-4) in four games 23-25, 26-24, 25-11, 25-23, for the 5A state championship. It was the first state title since 2011 for the Wolverines. The same schools met for the state trophy a season ago, with Valor Christian prevailing in that one. Chaparral defeated Valor Christian all three times in 2019. The only losses for the Wolverines came to Cherokee Trail in the season opener and to Legend. Chaparral defeated Legend twice after that but didn’t face Cherokee Trail again. …
In the Sunshine State, Hagerty (26-6) swept Palm Beach Gardens (21-7) 25-20, 25-19, 25-20, to capture Florida’s 7A state championship. It’s the first state crown in program history for the Huskies, who received 37 assists from Emily Lawrence and 12 kills by Sydney Conley. One of Hagerty’s losses came to St. Thomas Aquinas (24-8), which was vying for the 6A state championship but fell to Leon (29-3) in four 18-25, 25-10, 25-22, 26-24. For Leon, it finished with its best mark ever. A team to defeat Hagerty twice was Lake Highland Prep (26-2), which defeated Santa Fe (21-10) 25-17, 25-19, 25-19, for the 4A state championship. Ranya Mehta powered the offense along with 15 kills, Cierra Jenkins dished out 30 assists and Tamzen Wilson held down the defense with 18 digs. Lake Highland Prep last won state in 2008. …
In Iowa, Cedar Falls (44-1) brought home the Division 1 state title after taking care of West Des Moines Valley (38-5) 14-25, 26-24, 25-14, 25-22. It was Cedar Falls’ second state title in the past three years. Akacia Brown was key in this one with a match-high 23 kills. The only school to down Cedar Falls was St. James Academy, which was the Kansas 5A runner up …
Checking in on Louisiana, where a couple of streaks were extended. In Division 1 (Class 5A), Mount Carmel (36-9) swept St. Mary’s Dominican (35-12) 25-19, 25-20, 25-17 for its sixth straight state championship as Emily Meyer dropped 20 kills in the victory. In Division 2, Teurlings Catholic (20-4) handled Benjamin Franklin (41-7) 25-18, 29-27, 25-15 for the school’s seventh state title in a row.