Back on Aug. 24, the Mount St. Mary volleyball team defeated defending Class 4A state champion Elgin 3-1 in the finals of the Clinton Tournament.
Volleyball victories in August typically don't mean much, but this one did.
“We knew they were No. 1 coming in and we beat them,” Mount St. Mary junior Madison Rubino said. “At that point, we were like, ‘Wow, we can really do this.'”
And they did. With a 3-1 victory Saturday afternoon at Westmoore High School, Mount St. Mary knocked off No. 1 Elgin to claim the Class 4A state championship in the Rockets' first appearance at state.
“It feels really surreal,” said Rubino, who was named to the All-Tournament team. “We've all been working so hard for this. It's really exciting, and I'm really proud of my team.”
The match ended on perhaps the least dramatic point of a tightly contested meeting of No. 1 vs. No. 2.
After the serve by Mount St. Mary's Jordan Hagood, Elgin tried to return it, but was called for a back-row attack, giving Mount St. Mary the point and ending the match.
The first set went to Elgin, 28-26, but Mount St. Mary won the second 25-22 and took control of the match in the third, with a 25-16 win.
Elgin responded with a couple of big momentum swings in the fourth set, but each time, the Rockets had an answer.
“It was just heart,” said Hagood, one of the few seniors on the team. “We really, really wanted it. Elgin had been here before and they had won it before. With it being the first time here for us, we just found the fight to go out there and get it, and we did.”
It was a family affair for the Rockets as well, with junior Sarah Jekel earning Most Valuable Player honors on a team coached by her mother, Mary Jekel.
“That was real special, and it was exciting to be able to be a part of this,” Mary Jekel said.
And it was the second state volleyball title for the Jekel family. Mary won a Class 4A title as a player at Mustang in 1982.
“It was more nerve-wracking coming back as a coach than it was as a player back then,” Jekel said. “With all the responsibilities of these girls' hopes and dreams to try to accomplish it — there are some sleepless nights.
“This is so amazing for these young ladies who have worked so hard.”