By Joe Harris | Special to STLhighschoolsports.com
TOWN AND COUNTRY — The third time was the charm for St. Louis U. High junior Jack Krausz on Wednesday night.
Krausz had three straight chances to put the ball away during a key frenzied rally in the fourth set of the Class 4 semifinals as the Jr. Billikens battled Parkway South at Maryville University. The ball finally hit the floor on the third try.
“I was just playing my game honestly, adrenaline super high,” Krausz said. “We love getting all these touches, getting these great plays, and oh my gosh, a heck of a game man.”
The play sparked a late 4-0 run that proved to be the difference in a 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21 win for SLUH, which was playing in its 18th consecutive state semifinal going back to 2005.
“It's just such a momentum thing, right,” SLUH coach Jeff Cheak said. “Volleyball is so momentum based, and when you get that long rally, it's defeating to be on the one side and it's so energizing to be on the other. That was a big one and I'm not surprised, Jack always steps up to the big moments.”
SLUH (22-10-3), the four-time defending state champion, will play No. 3 large Lafayette (25-6) for the state championship on Thursday at 7 p.m. It will be the sixth time the two schools have met for the state championship with SLUH winning four of them including the last meeting in 2018.
It will also be the tenth consecutive championship match appearance for Cheak, who took CBC to the finals in 2013 and 2014 before taking over at SLUH in 2015. The Jr. Billikens have won 12 total state championships and have taken the title in six of the last seven years with Lafayette handing them their lone defeat during that span in the 2017 championship match.
“It's pretty special,” Cheak said. “And if you go through the list of guys, it's just an awesome memory. Ten times is pretty crazy. I don't ever take it for granted. It's how hard these kids work in the gym. And luckily, I get to be part of their journey.”
Krausz blasted 17 kills, Will Blaisdell had 15 and Victor Lazzaretti added 10 for SLUH. Henry Azar and Ethan Keutzer combined for 45 assists.
Nathan Barton knocked down 16 spikes, Sam Visintine had 12 and Aidan McLaughlin added eight for Parkway South (20-11-1), which was making its first semifinal appearance. Rishi Kancharla had 36 assists.
“I think their experience being here at this big game and it was our first time making the Final Four in school history,” Parkway South coach Sue Keller said. “So, I just think we had a few nerves and they just they played well.”
A couple of Krausz kills ignited a late 6-1 run for SLUH in the first set. Krausz and Blaisdell combined for seven spikes and Lazzaretti had two kills and a block as the Jr. Billikens took the opener.
“Going back to our basics is always a fundamental aspect of volleyball,” Blaisdell said. “You can always do this crazy stuff, but you really want to get down to the basics of what you know and how you play, and that's what we just did better tonight.”
Parkway South jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the second set behind aces from Tyler Gregg and Kancharla along with blasts from Barton and McLaughlin.
SLUH was able to draw even late in the frame behind a strong block up front and big swings from Lazzaretti and Krausz, but a couple of Barton spikes and a Jr. Billikens hitting violation helped Parkway South even the match at a set apiece.
“They fought, they played hard,” Keller said. “Things didn't go our way, but I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys than I am.”
Krausz’s fourth kill of the third set gave SLUH a 22-19 lead. Barton answered with a spike to get the Patriots to within one, but Blaisdell’s sixth kill of the frame gave the Jr. Billikens a 2-1 lead.
“I went into a drought in set one and set two, it's kind of like you want to really come out in the second or the third and build up that fire,” Blaisdell said.
Krausz’ big spike after the long rally provided the final push for SLUH in the fourth set. Krausz followed with another big swing and Azar’s serve trickled off the tape for an ace. Moments later a Miles Rittenhouse spike ended the 1 hour, 50-minute match.
Krausz said there’s a secret to SLUH’s prolonged success.
“The culture is just insane,” Krausz said. “I love getting to come into the gym every day with these guys. It just brings out the best in everybody. I love SLUH to death. It's an amazing game, amazing culture, and this is why we've been back here so many times.”
The Junior Billikens won their seventh title in the last eight seasons.
SLUH Jr. Billikens junior outside hitter Jack Krausz (2) tips the ball over Parkway South Patriots junior setter Rishi Kancharla (14) during the Missouri State Boys class 4 semifinals on Wednesday May 24, 2023 at Maryville University in Town and Country, MO. Rick Ulreich, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com