A year ago as a freshman, Mary Clare Brusek celebrated with the student section from the stands at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena as the Marist volleyball team dominated on its way to its second straight state title.

She couldn’t help but think that maybe a year from now she’d be out on that court.

Now, Brusek will get her chance.

Slamming home the match-winner into the heart of the defense, Brusek capped off Marist’s exciting 25-21, 25-22 victory on Nov. 8 over Sandburg to win the Class 4A Eisenhower supersectional.

“I watched from the stands last year. [Playing this year] is an amazing opportunity,” Brusek said. “I can’t believe how far we’ve come as a team. It’s how much work we put into practice. It’s paying off. It’s so exciting to be with my team and celebrate with them.”

The two-time defending state champion, Marist (38-2) will face conference rival Benet Academy on Nov. 15 in the state semifinals at Redbird Arena.

Marist and Benet split two regular-season matchups.

As the RedHawks chase a historic three-peat, senior Mairead Boyle said the team has done its best to ignore all the outside noise.

“Every game, we weren’t looking to state,” Boyle said. “We weren’t talking about it. We’re thinking each practice about the next game plan. We try to win the day and get better each opponent.”

Although the team defeated Mother McAuley and Sandburg in 2-set matches, the RedHawks were tested in both, delivering when needed.

A timely service run from senior Paige Cormier (St. John Fisher) late in the second set featured kills from Avery Jedry and Kamryn Chaney, along with 2 Sandburg errors, as Marist gained control for good.

Chaney’s kill put Marist up 23-19.

The freshman hitter was a midseason call-up for the RedHawks and continues to make her presence felt in the biggest moments.

“I feel great. I’ve been getting a lot of great teaching, and this team can go far,” Chaney said. “I get this extra competition and get to challenge myself to be better every day.”

Chaney (8 kills, 2 blocks), Cam Hannah (12 assists, 10 digs, 6 kills, 3 blocks), Maddie Arundel (6 kills, 10 digs), Boyle (18 digs, 2 aces), Nikki Jones (21 assists) and Avery Jedry (7 kills, 7 digs) led a balanced attack in the Sandburg victory.

One of the most powerful hitters in the state, Hannah (Clemson) sealed the first set with a beauty of a float kill over two Sandburg blockers.

Closing the second, Brusek (Queen of Martyrs) took a quick set from Jones (Most Holy Redeemer) to smash a clean kill with no blockers in sight.

“Before that serve came over, I said to Nikki right away, ‘I’m here. I’m ready,’” Brusek said. “That was one of the best feelings of my life. It’s all through practice. [Jones, Ellie Kurpeikis and myself] set aside setter and middle time and make that connection and drill it into our heads so our timing is right.”