SOUTH STREATOR - No matter what the sport, location or records, St. Bede-Marquette match-ups are always competitive and intense.

Add to that a Tri-County Conference Championship on the line in the Lady Bruins' final season in the league, and Saturday promises to be one heck of a TCC Tournament championship match at Streator Woodland.

"It's always a good match-up between Marquette and St. Bede," said Marquette coach Brooke Rick, who was in the stands scouting Thursday night as St. Bede beat Peoria Christian in the semifinals. "It's always fun."

A win Saturday night would be a historic one for either team.

The top-seeded Lady Crusaders are gunning to repeat as conference tournament champions for the first time. Marquette, the regular season champion, also won TCC Tournament titles in 1997 and 2001, but did not win again the next season.

"I think it would be great," Rick said. "Last year's group was real senior heavy and they all graduated. I think for this group, getting the first seed in the conference was a huge thing for them. If they take the conference championship, it would mean a great deal to them. They're an awesome group of kids. It's so nice to see them get the success that they deserve."

The Lady Bruins, who are the No. 2 seed, are hoping to win their first TCC Tournament championship in their final season before leaving for the NCIC Lincoln Division.

St. Bede fell in the conference tournament final four consecutive seasons from 2004-07.

"That'd be a dream come true," St. Bede head coach Dawn Williams said about winning a tournament title. "This team has been working hard to step up our level of play all season long. We've been edging toward it. If it can all come together on one night, that would be a capstone for this team."

Williams knows it will be a tough feat to accomplish for the Lady Bruins (13-10-2) after losing to the Lady Crusaders (16-9) 25-19, 25-13 on Oct. 8. Marquette also beat St. Bede in last season's TCC semifinals.

"I expect them to be just as powerful as they were against us the last time they played us," Williams said about the rematch. "We have one day to figure out some adjustments because they pretty much blew us away the last time we played. We can't let that happen again."

Williams said the Lady Bruins must cover better behind their hitters and blockers, read Marquette tips better and improve their transition from defense to offense.

"I think sometimes we were focused too much on defense the last time," Williams said. "The girls were kind of scared of what was coming at us. We have to play with confidence to take our defense and turn it into offense. That's what was missing. We were not able to get our offense really going against them. We have to get that transition game up to par to compete against them."

Rick said the Lady Crusaders must work on getting around St. Bede's block and serving well.

A key to the match will be the play of the middle hitters, which is the strength of each team.

In the middle, the Lady Crusaders feature 6-foot-3 sophomore Cordy Murphy and senior Bailie Bongartz, who doubles as a setter.

Murphy is averaging 11.5 kills per match in the TCC Tournament, and Bongartz has 12 kills in two tournament matches.

"It's going to be a game of middles," Williams said. "Cordy Murphy is a whole lot to deal with, but Bongartz is quite a player herself."

The Lady Bruins counter with Kayla MacDavitt (17 kills and 9 blocks in two matches) and Hailee Brayton (4 kills, 4 blocks in two matches).

"MacDavitt is a great hitter. That's something we talked about at practice (Thursday)," Rick said. "We didn't know who we'd see so we worked on a couple different things. One thing we talked about was making sure we're getting hands on everything she hits and shifting the defense for her because she's a lefty."

Other key players for Marquette are outside hitter Angela Elzer (13 kills in tournament) and setter Katelyn McDonald (17 assists, five points in semifinals).

Other key players for St. Bede include outside hitters Bethany Stavrakas (6 kills per match), Anna O'Sadnick (4 blocks per match) and Molly Scott (9.5 points per match).

Kevin Chlum can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 138, or at sports@newstrib.com.

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