NORMAL – Prairie Ridge’s girls volleyball team won its first 10 sets of the postseason with a fast offense and crisp ball control, sweeping all five of its matches going into Friday’s Class 4A state semifinals.
Making their first state appearance in 13 years, the Wolves couldn’t find either normally reliable parts of their attack against Downers Grove North at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
Downers Grove North swept Prairie Ridge, 25-16, 25-21, to advance to Saturday’s Class 4A title match against defending champion Marist. The Wolves will play Benet Academy, which lost to Marist, 25-18, 25-15, in the first semifinal, in the third-place match about 7:25 p.m.
Prairie Ridge (29-11) committed 17 hitting errors in the loss to Downers Grove North (30-11), which will end its season with the best finish in program history, regardless of the outcome against Marist.
“When you can’t keep the ball inbounds, you’re not going to win,” Wolves coach Stefanie Otto said. “That’s the bottom line. That’s unfortunate for us, because that’s not how we’ve been playing the latter half of the season.
“We had a really nice run, and I’m really super proud of the way we played up to this point. Tonight is disappointing, but I’m still very proud of this group, for sure.”
The Wolves are making their third state tournament appearance and first in Class 4A. Prairie Ridge took second in 2004 and 2005 in Class AA. All three appearances have come under Otto, now in her 22nd season.
Four-year setter Jayden Otto, who entered the match against the Trojans with 2,615 career assists, connected only 12 times with her teammates. Junior Hannah Baudin led the team with five kills and 10 digs, and Trinity Sheridan, Olivia Annen and Sammi Lockwood each had three. Otto added two kills and two aces.
Libero Olivia Jost recorded eight digs, and Alexis Kantner and Anna Tulke both had an ace.
“First off, we weren’t in system, and that pretty much killed us,” Jayden Otto said. “They were, and they could run all their options. We just made too many hitting errors, and we weren’t jelling as a team like we normally do.”
After falling behind, 6-2, in the first set, the Wolves grabbed an 8-6 lead with a 6-0 run. The Trojans, however, answered with a 7-2 run for a 13-10 lead. They grew the lead to as many as eight points before Jade Casper ended the set with a kill.
Stefanie Otto thought the Wolves were lacking their usual fire.
“Our energy level was atypical to what we’ve been doing in the postseason,” she said. “It was pretty lackluster. They weren’t coming together as a team like they normally do when we would make a mistake; they weren’t able to let those go.”
The Trojans were led by Margaret Mahlke with 11 kills. Casper tallied six kills and 10 digs, and Elizabeth Dunlap added 20 assists.
Annen said the Wolves are looking forward to their next opportunity against Benet (35-6).
“Making it down here, whether it’s for first or third place, it’s a great experience and a great opportunity,” Annen said. “The fact we’re down here is a really big moment, and we should just take it and run with it.”