'We've made history': Lutheran volleyball loses state title match, but leaves a legacy

Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register
The Springfield Lutheran Crusaders hoist their Class 1A volleyball state runner-up trophy after falling to Freeport Aquin in the title match Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.

NORMAL — There were tears, for sure, following Lutheran’s 25-20, 25-15 loss to Freeport Aquin in the Class 1A state championship on Saturday.  

But coach and athletic director Katie McCulley said there’s a ton of positives in a second-place finish for the Crusaders. 

“It means so much. We’ve made history,” McCulley said. “Being an alumni, I couldn’t be prouder. Being their coach, being their AD, I’m ecstatic for our program and the girls that are a part of it.” 

It was a history-making day for both teams in the 1A state title match at CEFCU Arena on the Illinois State University campus. The Crusaders get to display the school’s first runner-up trophy of any team in school history — the highest such finish of any kind. 

“It means a lot,” McCulley said. “The stuff our school is going through this year — like literally sinking into the ground — and yet the girls found a way to fight adversity, battle this year and use it as a way to join our community.” 

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Springfield Lutheran's Makenna Cox spikes the ball past Freeport Aquin's Megan Holder during the Class 1A volleyball state title match Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.

Aquin, which beat Lutheran 25-22, 25-17 in the 1A third-place match a year ago, brings up its first volleyball state title a year after making its first trip to the final four.  

Lucy Arndt and Ainsley Stovall combined for 27 kills as Aquin (41-1) brought back almost its entire roster from a year ago, losing just Elyse Luecke and Ava Hiveley to graduation — though both were big contributors to Aquin’s success.  

Lutheran, meanwhile, didn’t graduate anyone after last year’s fourth-place finish.  

Aquin’s Bentleah Stovall said she knew Lutheran would be a better team this year than the Crusaders were a year ago. 

“I think they were definitely mentally stronger and they were persistent: they did not give up the entire game,” Stovall said. “Last year, I think they were more nervous because we were also.” 

Arndt had seven kills in each of the two sets on Saturday and finished with 14. Stovall matched Arndt — both 5-foot-11 outside hitters — with seven in the second and finished with 13. 

“I knew that they were going to set a good block on me, so I worked hard to work around it,” Arndt said. “The game plan was (going at the lines).” 

Aquin didn’t just attack the lines or even the middle. The Bulldogs coach, Robyn Stovall — who is also the mother of both Ainsley Stovall and Bentleah Stovall — said the game plan was to keep the Crusaders from knowing where they were going. 

“I think it was really important at first to get them on their heels a little bit,” Robyn Stovall said. “We hit it hard and then we found some holes with some tips that scored us some points.” 

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Lutheran (38-4) struggled against the Bulldogs’ strong front line after holding its own in an 18-18 tie in the first set before Aquin scored seven of the final nine points.  

Springfield Lutheran players shed some tears after their loss to Freeport Aquin in the Class 1A volleyball state title game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 at CEFCU Arena in Normal.

The Crusaders’ Makenna Cox led her team with 12 kills while the rest of the team combined for nine more. Lutheran’s defense was on its toes throughout the two sets as Anna Schleyhan, Cox and Kaleigh Bergschneider totaled 35 digs.  

After a competitive first set, Aquin was too strong down the stretch for the Crusaders. The Bulldogs ran out to an 11-7 lead then traded points until getting four straight to expand a 15-12 edge into a 19-12 advantage.  

Lutheran had one last chance after scoring three consecutive points to get within 19-15 but Ainsley Stovall had three kills to close it out.  

Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, ryan.mahan@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.

Class 1A volleyball state finals

At CEFCU Arena, Normal

Friday’s semifinals

Freeport Aquin def. Sterling Newman 25-13, 25-16

Lutheran def. Norris City-Omaha-Enfield 28-26, 25-15

Saturday’s finals

Third: Norris City def. Newman 25-17, 25-18

Title: Aquin def. Lutheran 25-20, 25-15