NORMAL – Some times a coach has to go with their instincts and not share too much information with their team about an opponent but rather have them focus on what they need to do in order to be successful.
That's just the approach that Joliet Catholic Academy girls volleyball coach Christine Scheibe went with in Friday's semifinal match against Normal University High at the IHSA Class 3A finals at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena.
Telling her team to focus on their play and not worry about all sorts of details about the Pioneers proved to be a winning formula as the Angels overcame a 17-14 deficit in the opening set and built a 13-7 advantage in the second set as it went on to capture a 25-23, 25-20 victory to advance to their first title match since 2015.
It's the program's seventh championship match appearance and JCA (26-14) seeks its fourth state title and first since 2009 when it faces defending champion Sterling (35-6), who won 25-19, 25-18 over Nazareth Academy, in a 5:30 p.m. match on Saturday. The Angels fell to Sterling in two sets in last year's semifinals and took third place.
"Obviously to get to the state final was our goal and now our goal is to go out there and play our best and do our best to win that match," Scheibe said. "We lost to them in two last year down here so I think we're as ready and prepared as we can be be for this match. I think that we're going to be ready to go out there and step on the floor and compete tomorrow.
"I intentionally did not over-scout them going into this match, I wanted to go out and play our match and do what we did on our side of the court. So I just gave the girls very few basics as to what was going to happen and that's basically what did happen out there. I didn't want to overload my girls with, 'this is what they're doing here and what they're doing there.'"
Things were looking good for U-High (33-7) in the first set after taking a 17-14 lead following an ace by Alayna Crabtree (seven kills). But a kill by Jillian Gray (seven kills, 10 digs) gave the ball to Erin O'Grady, who served the next eight points which featured an ace, two kills from Gray and and one from Emily Surin (five kills) to give JCA a 23-17 cushion.
U-High, which lost to JCA last season in the sectional finals, closed to within 23-22 and after an exchange of points, Gray got a kill off a set by Ryan Hinshaw (17 assists, six digs) to close out the opening set.
"That definitely was an amazing feeling since we didn't know how the game would end because they were kind of coming back," Gray said. "We all had the feeling that someone had to end it, so I had to get it in my hands."
In the final set, JCA jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead following kills by Gray and Surin but after U-High got to within 8-7, the Angels boosted their advantage to 13-7 after a kill by Kristen Leuszler gave Surin the serve and she picked up four points which featured a kill by Bella Ray (five kills, four block assists) and an ace.
The Pioneers closed to within 22-19 but JCA used late kills from Surin and Riley Hungate (five digs) and Leuszler and Ray teamed for a block to end the match.
"We knew they would come out with revenge in their eyes since we knocked them out last year," Ray said. "We wanted to get to the state championship last year and we just didn't make it. But now we're there and our revenge is to beat Sterling."