MONTICELLO — There was roughly a 93 percent chance either a junior or senior would make the final play for St. Joseph-Ogden volleyball Thursday against Monticello, if the Spartans found themselves on the right side of a set point.
And they did — twice — during a 25-17, 25-19 victory that spoiled the Sages’ senior night.
Even so, the significant favoring of an SJ-O 11th- or 12th-grader capping a game with a kill or block didn’t play out in reality.
That’s because the other 7 percent is sophomore Kennedi Burnett.
The one out of 14. But a dominant one, to be sure.
Burnett secured 11 kills and nine digs for the Spartans (26-4, 8-1 Illini Prairie Conference), who earned second place in league action behind St. Thomas More with Thursday’s result.
Burnett was a big reason for that outcome. She threw up a decisive block in Thursday’s first game, then landed the last kill in the match’s second half.
She’s regularly among the Spartans’ attack leaders with a swing developed through years of hard work in her young life.
“I have the same job to do as all the rest of them, and they know that and they expect that from me, too,” Burnett said. “So I just have to be a leader and step in.”
SJ-O coach Abby McDonald has been impressed with Burnett’s growth from a freshman campaign in which Burnett saw some varsity reps but wasn’t the every-point presence she’s become.
“A huge difference,” McDonald said. “Her court presence and her court awareness has really developed. ... I’m really proud of what she does for our team.”
Emily Bigger’s 29 assists and Rylee Stahl’s seven digs also aided the Spartans, who have won 11 consecutive bouts since losing to STM on Sept. 26.
Both McDonald and Burnett feel the fourth triumph in that stretch — a three-set thriller over Tri-Valley — has set SJ-O in a sort of cruise control.
“At the beginning of the season we struggled with ... at times, getting frantic and having a hard time coming together,” McDonald said. “They’ve really come a long way with that. You could see (Thursday) it didn’t matter what the score was.”
Monticello (19-14, 2-5) did get a bit of a jump on the Spartans, using motivation from the pre-match senior celebration to bank four of the first five points.
But once SJ-O pulled ahead 10-9 in the opening game, the Sages never led again.
“They came out with a lot of energy, excited to play,” Monticello boss Kim Allison said, “excited for the opportunity to compete against a really good team.”
Renni Fultz (seven kills), Emelia Ness (three kills, two digs), Addison Wichus (seven digs) and Skyler Frye (seven digs) paced the Sages, who currently have four more victories than they did at this time last season.
That’s given Monticello a No. 4 seed and quarterfinal bye in Class 2A regional play. As well as a possible regional final matchup with the Spartans.
“It’s going to be a tough road,” Allison said. “But we’ve seen St. Joe now, and hopefully we’ll get to see them again in the championship.”
SJ-O is a defending regional winner in its own right. As Burnett participated in that run at some points and watched it from the sideline at others, she gained an idea what she’d need to bring to the table as a full-time starter one year later.
“Just the atmosphere of it all and knowing how girls play together,” Burnett said, “just helped me see that ... I could go in there and step in when I needed to.”
For all the Spartans’ recent success — including 2016’s runner-up showing in Class 2A — McDonald has taken a more tempered approach with this bunch of girls.
Starting with Tuesday’s regional semifinal versus either Oakwood or Westville, though, that blockade is coming down.
“I hate to say it, but it’s almost like we peaked early, and then we had to carry that for such a long time,” McDonald said. “We took a different approach with these guys and just tried to keep them a little more grounded. ... It’s hopefully going to benefit us now that it counts.”