NORMAL — Lucy Arndt couldn’t stifle a giggle. Neither could her teammates as Aquin broke a huddle after a late timeout Saturday.
“I like to make my teammates laugh,” Arndt, who led Aquin with 15 kills, said after the Bulldogs beat Springfield Lutheran 25-22, 25-17 at Redbird Arena to finish third in the Class 1A state girls volleyball tournament. “It lightens the mood and makes everything more fun.”
“I don’t know if she tries to make us laugh,” setter Morgan Holder said, “or it’s just her personality. She always makes us laugh.”
Coach Robyn Stovall said “when they are smiling and having fun, they play great.”
It was all laughs for Aquin on Saturday. Some of the pressure was off after losing to eventual state champion Champaign St. Thomas More in three tough sets Friday. And Aquin also kept the stress off by leading from start to finish in both sets against Springfield Lutheran (32-7).
“It’s definitely easier for us to be in the lead,” Arndt said. “We were just trying to have fun and enjoy this last game.”
Aquin (39-3-1) took an early 10-4 lead in both sets. In the first game, Springfield Lutheran got within two points three times after that, but never closer, the last at 24-22. Sophomore Ainsley Stovall then closed out the set with a tip kill in the short right corner.
“I was just trying to score for my team and finish the set off,” Stovall said. “I wasn’t nervous.”
Stovall’s winning kill was an example of Aquin’s far greater arsenal. Seven different Bulldogs had kills, led by Arndt’s game-high 15 and 10 by senior Ava Hively. Only two Springfield Lutheran players had kills.
“I can always count on Lucy and Ava to get the last kill,” said Holder, who had 27 assists. “They are my go-tos. Always. But I want to spread it around.”
Aquin’s versatility also helped the Bulldogs double Springfield Lutheran’s hitting percentage, .265 to .123. They also had only 11 errors to go along with their 33 kills, vs. the 10 to 19 ratio for Springfield Lutheran.
“We knew they had strong outside hitters,” said Makenna Cox, who led Springfield Lutheran with 13 kills. “We weren’t expecting to block them every time but just to at least get a good touch on the ball so our defense could get it up.”
Instead, Springfield Lutheran’s block attempts often served as a “tool” for Aquin hitters as the ball deflected out of bounds for a Bulldogs point.
“By trying to put up a big block, they were able to tool us quite a bit,” Springfield Lutheran coach Katie McCulley said.
Springfield Lutheran also struggled to deliver big hits. Even when they did hit it big. One time, for instance, Hiveley was knocked flat on her back digging out a spike by Cox — but dig it out she did and Aquin wound up winning the point.
“They kept a lot of good balls in play,” Cox said. “They are a scrappy team.”
Makenna and Kaleigh Bergschneider had all 19 of Springfield Lutheran’s kills. They also combined for 10 errors. Arndt and Hiveley, by comparison, had only five errors to go with their 25 kills.
“They did a good job of keeping us out of system and off the net, which made it harder for us to get kills,” Bergschneider said.
“We both swing to get the kill,” Cox said. “We’re not trying to keep the ball in play. We are trying to put it away. Which can lead to us hitting it out of bounds.”
After Aquin puts the sixth state trophy in school history away, it will try to come back and do what the five (three in football, two in girls basketball) previous school trophy winners did: Win state.
“We are losing two (seniors),” coach Robyn Stovall said. “They are very valuable. But we have a strong group coming up. Now we know what to expect. The first time down here is intimidating. Now we know what our goal is. We hope to be back here next year.”
IHSA Class 1A volleyball state finals
At Redbird Arena, Normal
Third: Aquin def. Springfield Lutheran, 25-22, 25-17
Title: St. Thomas More def. Southeastern, 22-25, 25-18, 25-17
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: IHSA state volleyball: Freeport Aquin vs Springfield Lutheran