Senior Olivia Annen knew Prairie Ridge had the talent to play on the final weekend of the high school volleyball season long before the Wolves' first match of the year. It was just a matter of putting everything else together.
"It doesn’t matter how good the girls are on a team," Annen said. "If they don’t play together, if they don’t have the team chemistry, they’ll never be a championship team. I knew that we had the talent and the chemistry. We're like one big family."
Annen's preseason prediction was spot on.
At 8:30 p.m. Friday, the Wolves (29-10) will play Downers Grove North (29-11) in a Class 4A state semifinal at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal. The winner will face the winner between defending champion Marist (37-3) and Benet (35-5) in the final on Saturday.
Prairie Ridge last went to state in 2004 and 2005, finishing runner-up both years in Class AA. This is the Wolves' third state appearance, all under coach Stefanie Otto, and first ever in 4A.
"It's very hard to get back to state," said Otto, in her 22nd year at Prairie Ridge. "All the stars have to align."
Both the Wolves and Trojans have yet to lose a set in the postseason. Downers Grove North defeated St. Charles East, 25-13, 25-17, in the Bartlett Supersectional, and is making its first state appearance since taking fourth in 1988 (Class AA).
Prairie Ridge defeated Loyola Academy, 29-27, 25-14, in the Gurnee Warren Supersectional.
Otto wants to see the Wolves play their game against a Downers Grove North team that has several attacking options.
Senior outside hitter Margaret Mahlke, a St. Louis commit, leads the Trojans with 440 kills. Junior setter Elizabeth Dunlap has collected 948 assists, 267 digs and 45 aces, senior Jade Casper has 222 kills, and senior Maddie Degiorgio has 188.
"I've probably watched them three or four times, and they’re pretty similar to other teams that we played," Otto said of facing the Trojans. "Their outside and setter are both very good, and they play very strong defense. They're a scrappy team, they keep the ball alive. We have to make sure we confuse them with where we're setting, and we have to keep that fast offense going."
Wolves setter Jayden Otto, who has 2,615 career assists going into the semifinals (17th most all time in the state, according to records on IHSA.org), is the leader of a balanced attack for Prairie Ridge that features five hitters with 141 kills or more.
Senior Sammi Lockwood, a Notre Dame commit, leads the Wolves with 212 kills and 76 blocks, followed by Annen with 194 kills, 54 aces and 219 digs, junior outside hitter Hannah Baudin (192 kills, 49 aces), UNLV commit and junior Trinity Sheridan (184 kills, 34 blocks), and Division II Illinois Springfield commit and senior Maddie McGuire (141 kills, 41 blocks).
Lockwood, who missed the majority of her sophomore season and her entire junior season after undergoing right rotator cuff surgery, said she's excited to play on the state's biggest stage.
"I’m most excited to spend more time with the team and playing in such a different environment, in an arena," Lockwood said. "I love these girls, and I love everyone that I get to work with every day.
"Last year, we had a really talented team. It just didn’t seem to click as well as we do this year."
On defense, the Wolves are led by sophomore libero Olivia Jost with 244 digs. Senior Anna Tulke has tallied 140 digs and 25 aces, and junior Alexis Kantner has 100 digs and 35 aces.
Jayden Otto will be making her third trip to state with Prairie Ridge, but her first time as a player. She went in 2004 and 2005 with her mom and family, but doesn't remember much. Jayden was only four years old when the Wolves went to state for the first time.
Stefanie Otto showed an old DVD to the current players of Prairie Ridge's first appearance at state 14 years ago. Jayden can be seen in the old video raising her index finger to signify the Wolves being No. 1.
Jayden Otto remembers watching the Wolves play when she was a middle schooler at Hannah Beardsley in Crystal Lake – talking to her friends and future teammates about one day going to state.
Now, that dream is a reality.
"I’ve just always been around the program growing up in the volleyball world," said Otto, who will play next year at Eastern Michigan. "It’s always been a dream of mine. To have it actually come true is amazing. It just means the world to me do this for my school. I’m just excited to hang out with my best friends and bond together one last time as a team. It’s our last hurrah."
Otto, Annen and Lockwood have been club teammates since the eighth grade and won the conference title at Hannah Beardsley in 2013. This year, Prairie Ridge won the outright Fox Valley Conference championship, going 15-1.
Many of the players have been friends since elementary school.
"Saturday is going to be my last match in the program, which is heartbreaking," Annen said. "But, either way, it's state and a great way to end it. We are all willing to fight one last time and play for each other."
Class 4A Girls Volleyball State Tournament Information
When: Prairie Ridge (29-10) will play Downers Grove North (29-11) at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday in a semifinal.
How they got here: Prairie Ridge won its first Class 4A supersectional title in program history, beating Loyola Academy, 29-27, 25-14, in the Gurnee Warren Supersectional. Downers Grove North beat St. Charles East, 25-13, 25-17, in the Bartlett Supersectional.
What's on the line? The winner between Prairie Ridge and Downers Grove North will play for the 4A state championship at approximately 8:55 p.m. Saturday against either Benet or Marist. The third-place match will begin at approximately 7:25 p.m.
About the Wolves: Prairie Ridge is making its third state tournament appearance and first in 4A. The Wolves last went to state in 2004 and 2005, finishing runner-up both years. The Wolves won the outright Fox Valley Conference title with a 15-1 record. Prairie Ridge has three Division-I commits: four-year setter Jayden Otto (Eastern Michigan), middle blocker Sammi Lockwood (Notre Dame), and outside hitter Trinity Sheridan (UNLV).
About the Trojans: Downers Grove North is making its first state semifinals appearance since finishing fourth in 1988 (Class AA). The Trojans won back-to-back sectional championships for the first time in program history. Like Prairie Ridge, Downers Grove North has yet to lose a set this postseason. The Trojans are led offensively by outside hitter Margaret Mahlke, a St. Louis commit.
Prairie Ridge team leaders
Kills: Sammi Lockwood 212, Olivia Annen 194, Hannah Baudin 192, Trinity Sheridan 184, Maddie McGuire 141
Blocks: Lockwood 76, McGuire 41, Sheridan 34
Assists: Jayden Otto 517, Baudin 281
Aces: Annen 54, Baudin 49, Alexis Kantner 35, Olivia Jost 33, Anna Tulke 25
Digs: Jost 244, Annen 219, Baudin 195, Tulke 140, Kantner 100