A Victorious Tournament
On Saturday, September 21st 2019 the 13th annual Wheaton Classic Girls Volleyball tournament entered its second day of competition. After starting the tournament with 2-0 records in pool play, both Waubonsie Valley and Benet Academy earned one of the eight coveted spots in the gold bracket of the 24 team, two day tournament.
One of the biggest challenges facing coaches and players in the gauntlets of an all day tournament is knowing that win or lose, by the end of the day you will have played three matches against some of the top competition in the state in a six hour window.
The day becomes a balancing act of getting rested and refueled between each game, while finding a way to stay mentally and physically prepared for the next opponent.
The favorites entering the 2019 tournament are perennial powers Benet Academy and Marist, a pair of East Suburban Catholic Conference rivals. The two teams have combined to win the Wheaton Classic 10 of the previous 12 years, with Marist defeating Benet in the championship game in 2017 and 2018.
At about 2:45 pm, Waubonise Valley heads to the Orange and Black gym inside Wheaton Warrenville South following a hard fought three set defeat at the hands of Plainfield North. The Warriors are scouting their next potential opponent, as they will take on the loser of the quarterfinal matchup between Marist and Plainfield Central.
A few minutes later, fresh off a tough three set win over the host Wheaton South Tigers, Benet Academy wanders into the gym to get an early look at a team they could see in the finals.
Despite the best efforts of Plainfield Central and 6’4 superstar senior outside hitter Taylor Landfair, Marist moves on to the semi finals with a two set victory.
As consolation games take over the two main gyms, the Benet girls head to the field house to begin warm-ups for their semi final game against Sandburg. Plainfield North grabs a bite to eat as a team before the semi against Marist, while the Redhawks keep things loose and unwind after their big victory.
Waubonise Valley now knows its opponent, but has to wait in the field house for an open court before the match with Plainfield Central can begin.
Benet vs Sandburg
At 3:45 pm, the Horsley gym opens up for the Benet-Sandburg semi final match. Redwings head coach Brad Baker hopes to dispatch of the Eagles quickly, knowing that back to back three set matches could leave his team fatigued heading into their final game.
Led by senior libero and Notre Dame commit Hattie Monson, the Redwings take set one 25-19.
Over in the Fieldhouse, Plainfield Central jumps out on Waubonsie, taking the first set 25-20, threatening to knock the Warriors into the 7th place game.
After being tied midway through the 2nd set, Benet catches fire in the second set behind junior setter Rachel Muisenga and outside hitters Colleen McGuire and Sophie Gregus, taking the straight set victory. The Redwings have now made the finals of the Wheaton Classic nine years in a row.
Warriors Battle Back
Just after 5pm, The Warriors battle back in set number two, making enough plays to force a third set for a 2nd consecutive game.
Marist and Plainfield North take the court in the 2nd semi final in the Orange and Black gym. A few Benet players unwind as they scope out the competition for the championship match.
Time to Scout
While Marist takes control in the opening set, Coach Baker and assistant coach Jeff Steinberg watch from the stands, as they begin to discuss strategy in the limited time between matches. Marist does not give the Benet coaches much time to scout, as they dispatch of Plainfield North quickly, 25-16, 25-14.
A little before 5:45pm, Plainfield Central and Waubonsie battle on in the third set. Even though a tournament title is out of reach, each team wants to finish as strong as possible and advance to the 5th place game. Finally, the Warriors secure a 28-26 third set win on an ace from Jessica Molina. Despite the excitement over the comeback win, senior outside hitter, and eventual All-Tournament selection Trinity Evans knows the team must turn the page quickly and get ready for their next game against Wheaton Warrenville South.
While the Silver Bracket championship is played in the Orange and Black gym, Benet begins to get loose in the hallway, having changed into fresh uniforms.
The Redhawks of Marist, flying high after another convincing victory, entertain the remaining fans with a choreographed performance in the cafeteria.
The Championship Begins
Finally at 6:20 pm, nearly five hours since the gold bracket began, Benet Academy and Marist tipped off in the Wheaton Classic Championship for the third consecutive year.
The Redwings have been waiting a long time for another shot at Marist, not only did they lose to the Redhawks in this tournament the past two seasons, Marist also defeated Benet in the state semi finals last November, on the way to a 2nd consecutive state championship victory.
But in the first set, Marist proves that not much has changed over the past two years. Senior outside hitter Camryn Hannah throws down multiple thunderous kills. The size of Middle Blockers Ellie Kurpeikis and Mary Clare Brusek form a wall against the Redwing hitters. The Redhawks control set one throughout, winning 25-22. One set away from a three peat.
The second set is much more back and forth, but Benet clinging to a narrow lead, Rachel Muisenga exits the game after taking and errant elbow to the forehead, and must sit out while being examined for a concussion. But sophomore Sam Buckley comes off the bench and delivers for her team when her number is called.
Late in the set, Muisenga returns to the floor with a welt growing larger by the minute, while Marist ties things up at 25 apiece.
With the Redhawks looking for another powerful kill to take the lead, the Benet defense stands tall with back to back blocks to take the set 29-27 force a third.
Set three is a roller coaster ride throughout, with the Redwings surging up 14-10, Marist shows its championship meddle by going on an 10-1 run to take a 20-15 lead.
But this Benet team has been preparing for moments like this all day and all season, using preparation, recuperation and determination to rise to the occasion when the backs hit the wall.
At 7:53 pm, the Redwings complete a 10-1 run of their own as a Marist kill sails long and the Benet bench storms the court. It’s the 8th Wheaton Classic championship for the Benet program, but the first for any player on the current roster. A feat not lost on senior leader and tournament MVP, Hattie Monson.
While the hard work and preparation throughout the day has paid off, the undefeated Redwings know that the journey is far from over, and to understand where they want the season to end, you just need to listen to the team’s breakdown chant.
For more on Benet Academy Volleyball.
Check out the highlights from the Wheaton Classic Tournament!
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