VERNON HILLS – St. Francis outside hitter Anna Calcagno was not afraid of showing her emotions throughout Wednesday’s match against Carmel.
The Marshall recruit was among the six seniors on the Spartans involved in a win-or-go-home match in the Class 3A Vernon Hills Sectional finale.
But for the Spartans, going home had a different meaning.
Behind a superb effort from Calcagno, the Spartans will be going home while also moving a step closer to a state bid after defeating Carmel 25-21, 13-25, 25-16 to advance to Friday’s 6 p.m. St. Francis Supersectional against Nazareth.
Besides helping her team to state, Calcagno said she was motivated to not be forced to watch Friday’s supersectional as a spectator. The Spartans (28-12) have the rare luxury of hosting the supersectional this season.
Calcagno was superb in the highly contested match. She finished with 15 kills, 10 digs and four blocks. For the season, Calcagno now has 405 kills.
Still, the Spartans relied on a collective effort to knock off the Corsairs (32-6). Middle hitter Olivia Hojnicki had eight kills and three blocks and Kennedy Riggs tallied eight kills and 15 digs. Libero Katlyn Sipes finished with 17 digs and Natalie Ingold netted 30 assists and 22 digs.
“It wasn’t time for this team to be done,” Calcagno said. “We’re still playing. We’re not ready to go home. I think it’s truly amazing to be with a team like this. Everyone has grown and we’re slowing moving to our goal. Our motto at the beginning of the season was “Dream Big” and we’ve slowly been chasing it ever since.”
The seniors have been motivated all season to end the program’s state drought. Former coach Peg Kopec led the program to 12 state championships, finishing her career with four consecutive titles, in her illustrious 40-year coaching career.
Since Kopec retired, the Spartans have maintained a high level but not advanced to state in the past three years. Calcagno, a four-year varsity starter, made a point earlier this season to note that omission.
“Going back to St. Francis was a huge motivation,” St. Francis coach Lisa Ston said. “You want to be able to go home and play that match. We knew Carmel was going to be an outstanding team. Having the luck to be able to go back and play at St. Francis was a nice motivator.”
Calli Riggs, a junior outside hitter, said the team used the motivation of playing at home in the supersectional to get off to leads of 5-1 and 10-3 in the third set.
“We really wanted to bring it home,” she said. “We knew we had to push really hard because Carmel is a great team and we played really well as a team. It’s a great feeling to be going back home to play.”
Kennedy Riggs, a sophomore outside hitter, agreed: “We knew it was our last chance in the third set. We had to put everything out on the floor and play great defense, and we did that.”
The Spartans rode consecutive kills by Calcagno late in the first set to pull out the win. In the second set, Carmel’s Eileen Tarcha was unstoppable at the net to help the Corsairs force a third set.
Calcagno set the tone with numerous thundering kills in the final set, celebrating each time with her teammates by jumping up and down and pumping her fists.
“Anna is incredible in that she has the physical ability to take over a match,” Ston said. “When she is on, she’s very hard to stop because of her ability to hit all the shots. She can see the floor really well. Her goal coming into her freshman year was to make it downstate. When you are a senior, it gives you that little bit more to try and get there.”