Linares digs SFP out of trouble, into finals

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The St. Francis Prep girls’ volleyball team was in need of a spark. Big time.

The Terriers lost their first set of the season and were in unchartered territory against Fontbonne Hall Academy in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens semifinals.

The thing that brought them back? Not a monster block or a thunderous kill. It was just a little defense – actually a lot of it. Prep junior libero Jillian Linares was everywhere Tuesday, diving for free balls, flying across the floor like she was on a Slip ‘n’ Slide. At one point she almost slid all the way under the net to the Bonnies side of the court.

Linares had 33 digs – some at the most opportune times – and revitalized a St. Francis Prep squad that might have looked past Fontbonne a bit in a 23-25, 25-22, 25-4, 25-18 win in Fresh Meadows.

“When everyone is off a little bit, you gotta pick the pieces up,” Linares said.

Prep, the No. 1 seed from Queens, will play Mary Louis, which beat Bishop Kearney, in the finals Monday.

“Jill was our mainstay,” SFP coach Kevin Colucci said. “I told her she was the main reason we won. A ball you don’t think is reachable, she dives and digs up.”

Added senior outside hitter Theresa Quinn: “We followed her.”

Fontbonne (11-3 CHSAA) came into the match loose and playing good volleyball. The Bonnies were coming off a win against Archbishop Molloy – the Stanners first loss ever to a Brooklyn team – in the quarterfinals Sunday and had upset on their minds.

And for a while that looked like it could be a reality. Fontbonne took a 19-12 lead in the first set and Prep was noticeably tight. Plus, the Terriers are banged up – almost every player is competing with some form of injury. Senior middle hitter Courtney Hanson has been playing with a fractured foot for most of the season.

“I thought, you know what? We might surprise them,” Fontbonne coach Linda Strong said.

The Bonnies played terrific, especially on defense. Colucci raved about their digging ability. They got to almost every ball. Fontbonne definitely proved a point – about itself and the perceived weak CHSAA Brooklyn division.

“By no means did they kill us,” said Fontbonne junior setter Sarah McCarthy, who had 13 assists. “I think they came in here thinking they were going to.”

Though Colucci has warned against it all season, the Terriers probably came in a little overconfident. They hadn’t lost a set all year – and they hadn’t really come close to losing one, either. When they did against Fontbonne it was like a shock to the system.

“It was a wake-up call,” said senior outside hitter Veronique Cadet, who had 10 kills.

Junior middle hitter Diane Lollo had 10 kills, Hanson had nine kills and Quinn had eight for St. Francis Prep (11-0 CHSAA). Sophomore setter Julia Hannigan, who was replaced with Nicole Rivera in the first set and came back in the second, had 31 assists.

Krissy DeMasi led Fontbonne with five kills and 15 digs and Justina Johnson had 20 digs. Kara Egan had her usual solid play in the middle.

Linares thinks St. Francis will use losing a set to Fontbonne as a positive. The Terriers have hopes for a second straight CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens title and want to do damage at the CHSAA Class AA state tournament in Buffalo next weekend.

“It helps to realize it’s possible (to lose a set),” Linares said. “It’s more real now.”

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