CHICAGO HEIGHTS | The turnaround for the Marian Catholic volleyball program is not finished yet.
The top-seeded Spartans added another chapter to their remarkable season Thursday night with a 25-21, 25-23 victory over second-seeded Illiana Christian in the championship of the Class 3A Marian Catholic Sectional.
With the win, the Spartans advance to play Payton at the Class 3A Rich East Supersectional at 7 p.m. Saturday, with a trip to the state tournament on the line. The Spartans, who won only 10 games last year, improved their mark to 23-16. It was their first sectional title in volleyball since 2002.
"It feels so good to win," said Spartans sophomore Amber Clay, who had a match-high 11 kills. "Our team loves this type of game. We love being pushed, the pressure; it just makes us work harder."
Clay had a pair of kills late in the first game to give the Spartans a 24-20 lead before teammate Kendyl Todd put the game away with a two-handed placement shot. The Spartans broke a 12-all tie in the second game with a four-point run that included another Clay kill and a dig for point by Rosalind Byrd. Five times after that, the Vikings closed the deficit to one point only to have the Spartans respond, with a kill by freshman middle hitter Kelsey Clark closing out the match.
Clark had five kills and Jasmine King four kills for the Spartans, while setter Colleen Rynne dished out 16 assists.
"It's not always the most exciting part of the match, but I thought our tip coverage was a key tonight," Spartans coach Ryan Summers said. "(Illiana Christian) is very good at tip kills, but I don't think they got one of those."
In a repeat of last year, the Vikings again were knocked out of the playoffs in the sectional final against a team that hosted the tournament. The Vikings (25-13) managed to avenge that 2010 playoff loss to Oak Forest with a win over the Bengals in Tuesday's sectional semifinal but could not overcome the firepower of the Spartans hitters, despite strong play from the Vikings' back-row defense, which sometimes led to extended rallies.
"We came out here and did what my scouting report should do," Vikings coach Nikki Van Dyke said. "We just made more errors, and (Marian Catholic) is a phenomenal team."
The Vikings had balanced scoring Thursday night, starting with senior middle hitter Jaclene Bonnema, who led the team with six kills. Felicia Schaap added five kills, while Kylie Vanroekel and Tina Massey contributed four kills apiece.
"They had really tall, big hitters, and they were just hitting around our blocks," Bonnema said of the season-ending loss. "It's sad for our season to end, but this year was the most fun. We were really close as a team and I don't think we have anything to hang our heads about."