CARPENTERSVILLE – Dundee-Crown’s back row shifted left, then right again. Chargers volleyball coach Christine Hopkins-Muehl quickly made substitutions, hoping to add stability, or confidence, or speed.
Anything to stop Carly Nolan.
The Crystal Lake South junior had stepped behind the service line during Game 2 on Thursday with the score knotted and the Gators playing more timid than usual. Nolan ripped off an ace on her first try, then another to force D-C to fiddle with its serve-receive formation.
By the time Nolan missed, the Gators had a double-digit lead en route to a 25-21, 25-12 victory against the Chargers in Fox Valley Conference Valley Division play.
The precision with which Nolan served wasn’t new, but it came after inconsistent serving nearly caused the Gators to drop Game 1 to an upstart Chargers team with a penchant for biting unsuspecting opponents.
“Every time I served, they would adjust,” Nolan said. “They were moving left to right, so I was serving the open spot, and at one point they moved to a two-man serve-receive (formation). When that happened, I was like, ‘Sweet. That’s awesome.’ ”
Two-man serve-receive formations can leave teams vulnerable to being aced if the passers can’t get underneath the serve quickly. Nolan’s top spin didn’t make things easier for D-C (9-10 overall, 2-5 FVC Valley). Three of Nolan’s first four serves were aces, and Avalon Nero knocked down a kill off a pass from setter Cassy Sivesind (17 assists) to give South a five-point cushion, 15-10, and force a D-C timeout.
South (23-2, 8-0) built a 20-10 advantage behind two Chargers hitting errors, a tip kill from junior middle hitter Emma Burkle, another Nolan ace and a Nero kill. D-C finally got a break when Nolan’s serve to the back corner landed outside the line to give the Chargers sideout.
“In that first set, we couldn’t get a serve over the net and we needed to change,” South coach Jorie Fontana said. “(Nolan is) very business-like. I don’t think she feels the pressure, whether it’s point one or point 24. She sits back there and does what she needs to do, because that’s her job.”
The Chargers capitalized on South’s inconsistencies in Game 1. D-C led, 15-10, thanks to a slew of unforced South errors, kills from right side hitter Ashley Raby and a tip from junior outside Kiana Mays.
South rallied to lead 19-16 and didn’t trail again. The Gators weathered a late D-C push, fueled by kills from sophomore Frankie Cavallaro and Raby, that cut the Chargers’ deficit to two, 23-21.
“Our serve-receive obviously was not good,” Hopkins-Muehl said. “I thought we played well in the first game. I was proud that we were ahead and chipped back in there, but obviously serve-receive was a big component of that loss.”