JOHNSBURG - As soon as Johnsburg cut its deficit to a single point in the second set, a chance to force a third game looming, Crystal Lake Central’s volleyball players huddled in the middle of the court and paused.
The Tigers’ rotation had plenty of firepower in the front row. Get the ball up to the outsides and the Tigers could avoid handing the Skyhawks the momentum. Even if the right pass wasn’t there, instinct could take over.
That’s what happens when players have played together for the better part of six years. Thursday had been on these Tigers players’ radar since middle school, and they weren’t going to let the Skyhawks foil deep-rooted dreams.
Senior outside hitter Krissy Pratt smacked a kill to begin finishing what the Tigers said they’d do as sixth-graders. The kill sparked a seven-point run that lifted Central over Johnsburg 25-14, 25-17 and gave the Tigers their seventh Fox Valley Conference Fox Division title in eight seasons and sixth outright over the same period.
“I have been looking forward to this really the entire time I’ve been playing volleyball,” said setter Sydney Nelson, who served the final seven-point sequence in Game 2. “It’s crazy to be in this position, and it’s so exciting.”
Once Pratt laid down the kill and the Tigers regained a two-point cushion, 19-17, Nelson stepped to the line and served an ace. Senior middle blocker Rachael Schoepke terminated on the first touch to go up 21-17 and pushed the Tigers ahead 22-17 on a block that forced Johnsburg to take a timeout.
The first serve out of a timeout often is considered the most important of a match-clinching set. Nelson’s was an ace. Pratt and Schoepke finished the Skyhawks off with kills to put the final touches on the Tigers’ crown.
Grayslake Central gave the Tigers a scare on Tuesday when a three-game match threatened the Tigers’ shot at securing at least a share of the division title. Central coach Lisa Reddish used Wednesday’s practice to work on putting together runs because playing sideout volleyball killed the Tigers on Tuesday.
The approach worked. Central built an early advantage, 14-6, in Game 1, rattled off an 8-4 run to close Game 1, and pushed ahead 15-9 with a 8-2 run in Game 2 that featured kills from Schoepke and junior right side Susan Jeziorowski.
Johnsburg (16-7 overall, 9-2 FVC Fox) often is the team standing in the way of Central’s bid for an outright title. The Skyhawks’ passing improved in Game 2, indicating they might just force the third game, and Schmitt (five kills) threw down two kills while serving three straight points to cut the Skyhawks’ deficit to one. But the spurt wasn’t enough.
“I really did think we would (force a third game),” Johnsburg coach Sue Feely said. “I don’t know why sometimes (Central) makes us nervous, but I think that’s what it was.
“It was a loss, but I really do think we played great. I’m not upset about this one at all.”