Taking it to the top
Mighty Macs capture 14th state volleyball title
Since becoming head coach of Mother McAuley’s storied volleyball program in 2005, Jen DeJarld has experienced a lot of success with many of her teams — but never the winning of a state championship.
That changed Saturday night at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena. There, the Mighty Macs capped off an incredible 2013 season by capturing the school’s 14th title in the sport.
In reigning over Illinois Class 4A volleyball for the first time in nine seasons, McAuley ended another team’s two-year stay at the top. Benet Academy was the Macs’ victim, 25-22, 25-19, in Normal.
Under DeJarld, McAuley had finished second in 2007 and third on three other occasions, including last year. And while she holds great affection for all the teams she’s coached, DeJarld understandably beams with pride when considering this year’s 40-2 showing.
“It was an exhilarating weekend and an amazing season,” DeJarld said. “There’s such incredible satisfaction in what this team accomplished [by] keeping focused all the way throughout the season, from Aug. 14 to Nov. 16. It’s a long time, and to have and to keep that drive, focus and work ethic is a testament to these girls. All the hard work paid off.
“For all the teams I coached that made it to state — I’m very proud of all of them. We’ve finished toward the top in many seasons; last year, we made it down with five sophomores.
“But, of course, this is extra special. And to have my daughter on this team — what an amazing thing.”
Kayla Caffey paced McAuley in the title match with eight kills, two of them resulting in the 25th point of the first game and the 24th of the second. Ryann DeJarld (seven kills), Kelsey Clark (six), Maggie Scanlon (four kills, five digs), Carla Cahill (nine digs), Mallory Maxwell (eight kills) and Courtney Joyce (26 assists, three kills) also contributed heavily to the Macs’ good fortune.
McAuley was ahead 21-20 in Game 1 when Clark and Caffey delivered big kills for a three-point lead. With the Macs up 24-22, Caffey closed out the set with a kill.
In the second game, Benet used a late 4-0 run to tie the match at 17-all, but kills by Clark and DeJarld regained a lead for McAuley that would not be relinquished. Caffey then closed out the match and the players hoisted the state championship trophy.
“They were not going to denied,” Coach DeJarld said of her players. “I think in their heart they knew they were going to come away champions. They truly believed it — it didn’t take too much convincing on our part as coaches.
“We saw it early on. They were driven and extremely self-motivated — that’s what it takes to be a champion.”
To get to the final match, the Macs had to endure a three-game marathon against a determined New Trier squad in one of the semifinals. For two games, the Lady Trevians were McAuley’s equal, but the latter finally pulled away in the deciding set to complete a hard-fought 32-30, 22-25, 25-15 conquest.
Ryann DeJarld had an impressive 20 kills to go along with nine digs, while Clark (10 kills), Cahill (21 digs), Maxwell (nine digs), Caffey (seven kills), Joyce (37 assists, six kills) and Kennedy Arundel (five kills) also did their part to help the Macs prosper.
New Trier boasted a front line that included three 6-footers — two of the girls stood 6-4 or better — but McAuley countered with 70 digs out of a backcourt that featured Cahill, Maxwell and DeJarld. The Macs rallied from a 12-8 deficit and finally closed out the first game after six chances, with Clark producing the winning point on a kill.
The Lady Trevians jumped ahead 13-5 in Game 2 and were never headed, but McAuley retaliated with a 5-0 start to the third game. From there, the Macs rolled.
“Game 1 was tough,” Coach DeJarld said. “New Trier played at the highest level in that match than they had played at any point during the season when they played us.
“They really rose to the occasion, and we had to compete against their tall middles. We kept blocking and chipping away at them, and the persistence paid off. Our defense and ball control, ultimately, controlled the match.”
Even after the Lady Trevians forced a third set, De Jarld wasn’t worried.
“Our motto is [that] no one is better than us in Game 3 — we just have to bring out so much energy,” she said. “That’s why we run sprints. We have to have the most energy and highest spirits in a third game. We worked hard on that, and Ryann’s 20 kills was pretty spectacular.”
The younger DeJarld’s semifinal exhibition actually ran somewhat counter to what had been a McAuley strength this season. The most difficult aspect about preparing for the Macs was dealing with the balance they displayed on both offense and defense.
“We really have no one specific player who dominates,” Coach DeJarld said. “That’s why I think we’re so solid, because it was a total team effort. We wanted a diverse team [and] our kill percentage is pretty even across the board.
“That’s why it’s hard to compete against us, because you never know who’s getting the ball. Since all our girls are good ball handlers, we have options — three hitters every time, which keeps our opponent on its toes.”
And that balance paid off in an undefeated run through Illinois. Only teams from Kentucky administered setbacks to McAuley in 2013.
And with only setter Joyce graduating, the Macs will enter 2014 as a favorite to repeat.
“We played the tough matches and in the tough tournaments to get us ready for the pressure matches and situations,” Coach DeJarld said. “The losses to Kentucky early in the season were character-building experiences for us. Wheaton-St. Francis won [the] Class 3A state [championship], and their only loss was to us — and they almost beat us.
“We’re going to lose Courtney Joyce, who is big catalyst at the setter position, but we’re excited about next year already because we’re basically bringing back everybody else.”