CARPENTERSVILLE – Trailing crosstown rival Crystal Lake Central by 10 points in Game 2 of the Class 4A Dundee-Crown Regional final, Crystal Lake South never doubted it could mount a comeback.
Despite that confidence, the Gators were running out of time. With the second-seeded Tigers only six points away from forcing a deciding Game 3 after the top-seeded Gators won the opening game, South had little room for error.
Junior outside hitter Carly Nolan and senior outside hitter Avalon Nero proved to be a dangerous duo at the service line and within the Gators’ offense. Their efforts, which included four kills and three aces between them during South’s final 11 points, combined with Central’s unforced errors helped the Gators rally. South recovered to beat Central and claim its first regional title since 2008 capped by a stunning 25-23 comeback win in Game 2.
“We knew we were going to win, but we had to go out and do it,” Nolan said. “We didn’t come out as strong in the second game with our energy, and that’s where they got us. We fought back and showed them what Crystal Lake South is all about.”
The Gators (35-3) trailed throughout the second game except for the final two points – a hitting error by Central to give them the lead followed by Nolan’s match-winning kill. An ace from Nero, her fourth of the match, tied the score at 23.
“In the back of my mind, I knew we weren’t going to lose this game,” Nero said. “I know we were down by 10, but I could feel we weren’t going to let them have it. I think we go out there and expect to win and put teams away.”
Two lengthy runs in both games by South doomed Central (32-5). In Game 1, the Gators took control with an 18-4 run to erase the Tigers’ early advantage, and in Game 2, they closed out the win on a 15-4 run. Nolan finished with a match-high 10 kills with two aces, while senior middle blocker Nicole Slimko added six kills and five blocks for South.
“I can’t even process what just happened,” South coach Jorie Fontana said of the Game 2 comeback. “That’s been our entire motto the whole season: Live in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing right now. ... Everybody contributed – picking up our defense, hitting our shots, blocking.”
Eight unforced errors thwarted Central en route to the 25-14 loss in Game 1. The Tigers didn’t let those struggles carry over during the beginning of the second game. They took a 9-2 lead to open Game 2 led by senior right side hitter Maddy Cysewski and senior middle blocker Lauren Leverenz, who finished the match with nine and six kills, respectively. The Tigers extended their lead to 19-10 before becoming too tentative against the more aggressive Gators.
“We settled down in that second game and then we kind of lost it again,” Leverenz said. “We had a lead and we got comfortable. We were saying never get comfortable and we did and we let it go.”
For Central, the loss marks the end of a remarkable run for the 10 seniors. In the past two seasons, the Tigers compiled a 58-14 record, including a 24-0 mark in Fox Valley Conference Fox Division play.
“This is my dream team,” Central coach Lisa Reddish said. “Even though it doesn’t feel like it without the regional trophy, without the trip to state, they have no idea the huge impact they made on this program.”