NORMAL — The Downers Grove North volleyball team discovered a good spot to watch the end of the Class 4A state third-place match between Benet and Prairie Ridge on Nov. 10.
Standing together in the south tunnel, the Trojans enjoyed their final moments together before entering the spotlight for the 4A state championship match against nationally-ranked Marist at Redbird Arena.
The Trojans cherished every minute of their first trip to state in 30 years — and their first-ever appearance in the title match — just not the ending.
But after a season full of exceeding expectations and overcoming numerous setbacks, the Trojans couldn’t pull out one last magical victory. Behind strong start in both sets, Marist won its second consecutive state title, a 25-21, 25-11 win over Downers Grove North. Despite the two-set loss, the Trojans (30-12) took consolation by becoming the first Downers Grove North girls team to play for a championship.
“Right now, everybody is disappointed because we didn’t play the way we were capable of playing,” Downers Grove North coach Mark Wasik said. “Marist serviced us off the court, but once the dust settled, we’re able to reflect on the season. We made history because these girls are very special. They play together and it was overall a very fun season…They were on the same page all season long.”
Marist’s imposing hitters made it difficult for the Trojans to knock down a clean shot. Downers Grove North finished with 16 kills and 13 hitting errors for a .042 hitting percentage, with Margaret Mahlke limited to seven kills on 31 attempts. Marist had 25 kills and nine aces.
“Marist is really solid from top to bottom,” Wasik said. “The thing that we’ve had to work on the most from day one is serve-receive. We identified that’s our biggest area of weaknesses. It came out tonight. We struggled with it. I was happy to go on the run we went on, but Marist was one step better than we were the whole match.”
The Trojans were a decided underdog entering the match, especially after Marist dispatched highly-ranked Benet in two sets in the state semifinal. But the Trojans fought back from a 12-6 first set deficit to put a late scare into the RedHawks. Mahlke, a St. Louis recruit, had back-to-back kills to lower the deficit to 23-19.
“Marist served us extremely tough and were digging everything and ran a really fast offense,” Mahlke said. “It was unlike anything we had seen before. But this is a dream for any person on a volleyball team. I’m proud that we got here.”
The RedHawks (39-3) jumped out to 7-1 lead in set two, but after a kill by Jade Casper, the Trojans sliced the deficit to 10-6. But the RedHawks, the No. 21-ranked team in the country by PrepVolleyball.com, were simply too experienced and powerful.
Junior setter Beth Dunlap had 11 assists and Madison Cuchran added nine digs and four aces for the Trojans.
“It feels great to come this far,” Dunlap said. “We had nothing to lose. It was unfortunate how it ended, but we gave it our all. It’s an honor to be on this team and be a part of school history.”