NEW CHICAGO — Tears fell on both sides on Saturday afternoon as Andrean introduced itself to the Class 2A volleyball community with a gritty victory over four-time defending sectional champion Bishop Noll.
The 59ers, who advanced to the Class 3A semistate title match last year, dropped down to 2A this season and knew they’d have a long-awaited match with Bishop Noll, a Class 2A semi-state semifinalist last year.
Andrean came out strong and closed with a fury as the 59ers won 25-21, 20-25, 25-14, 25-21. The 59ers defeated River Forest in Saturday’s title game 25-8, 25-10, 25-10 to win the sectional title.
The Ingots beat Roosevelt 25-9, 25-4, 25-8 in the other morning semifinal.
“It was huge for us to come out and get the first game,” Andrean coach Grant Bell said after the semifinal win. “We talked so much this week about coming out strong. We brought a lot of energy in the first game. The girls, the play with such swagger.”
Jenna Dal Santo led the 59ers (25-8) with 27 kills and two aces while twin sister Christina Dal Santo added 22 digs and three assists. Butler commit Serena Wagner led the 59ers with 45 assists and 18 digs.
“We knew that this was (Bishop Noll’s) sectional,” Jenna Dal Santo said. “We knew that this was going to be a tough match. We played them earlier this year and we knew to win, we had to bring the same energy that we brought last time.”
The 59ers beat Bishop Noll (23-12) in four games in mid-September and every player on the roster knew they’d have to beat the Warriors again if they wanted to advance in the postseason.
“I’ve been working so much on conditioning, and we’ve worked to be set up for this moment against Bishop Noll,” Wagner said. “We knew that we had to play this like it was our last game. Every game, every point, we had to go out there and play with everything we had.”
With Andrean leading 1-0, Bishop Noll senior Bella Kuechenberg delivered a huge play in the second game that kept the Warriors in contention. Bishop Noll was clinging to a 21-19 lead when the Warriors appeared to win the point. Several team members began celebrating, but Andrean was able to dig the ball off the court and get an improbable return. With the rest of her teammates in a huddle on the court, Kuechenberg delivered an impressive kill that helped ultimately even the match for Bishop Noll.
The 59ers used the setback as fuel for the next two games, dominating with a 25-14 win in the third game and then closing out the match with a 25-21 win.
“We did fight today and I told them I was glad to see they were crying, because that shows they have it in them to get over this hurdle and come back stronger next year,” Bishop Noll coach David Rodriguez said. “Bella, it’s more than what she does on the court. It’s the example that she sets. The first one in the gym for practice, the last one to leave. She brings everyone together.”
True to form, Kuechenberg was the last player to leave the floor on Saturday afternoon after hugging each one of her teammates, as well as plenty of Andrean players that came over to give a proper sendoff to one of the best players in Northwest Indiana. Kuechenberg will continue her playing career next season as a beach volleyball player at Florida International.