Marian Central ousts Johnsburg for regional volleyball title

WOODSTOCK – Twice before, Marian Central’s volleyball team had stared match point straight on. Twice, the Hurricanes couldn’t finish.

On a night when neither the second-seeded Hurricanes nor No. 1 Johnsburg had sustained momentum for any matter of time, Marian’s lone run of Thursday’s Class 3A Woodstock North Regional championship had put the Hurricanes in a position to clinch a title.

So the third time match point presented itself, Marian made sure it didn’t allow the opportunity to slip away. With one final push, the Hurricanes closed out a two-game sweep of the Skykhawks with a 28-26 victory, advancing to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Burlington Central Sectional semifinal against Regina Dominican.

After taking the opener, 25-23, Marian (21-16) trailed 21-16 and appeared on the verge of allowing Johnsburg to force a decisive third game. But Katherine Adams strung together six straight points, bringing the Hurricanes back and setting up the dramatic finish.

“It was definitely hard,” said sophomore Rachel Giustino, who led Marian’s front line attack with 13 kills. “But we pushed through.”

After being pushed to three games by Richmond-Burton in Tuesday night’s regional semifinal, the Hurricanes had to withstand a serious challenge by Johnsburg (24-13), which was hoping to avoid seeing its season end against Marian for the second time in three years.

The Skyhawks hoped their late lead would translate to a match-evening victory, paced by Ashly Schmitt, who had 10 kills, 11 digs and a block. But Johnsburg couldn’t hang on.

“They stepped it up just as much,” Johnsburg coach Sue Feely said. “That’s just volleyball. Our game strategy was to make sure they didn’t get a rhythm on us, and so we executed exactly what we wanted to.”

So what was the difference?

“It was just a matter of who made the least number of errors,” Feely said.

Marian capitalized when it needed to most, stabilizing its attack and finding empty spots on the floor to drop shots into. Sophomore Alex Kaufmann finished with 33 assists and senior Frankie Taylor (12 kills) helped provide a strong front-line presence along with Giustino, proving to be the difference.

“The momentum kept shifting and shifting – just when you think you have it, they would get it back and then as soon as they got it, we would get it back,” Marian coach Laura Watling said. “But it’s fun – it’s stressful, but it was a great match.

“Both teams, you could tell, were fighting.”

Despite having only three seniors, Watling’s younger players have contributed more than expected, following the lead of upperclassmen who have kept the Hurricanes grounded.

“This means a lot. We’ve had a roller-coaster season and it’s been up down, up down,” Taylor said. “We realize if we lose, it’s over, and so we want to take this as far as possible.”

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