Crystal Lake South volleyball sectional champions

BELVIDERE – Carly Nolan ripped her third straight shot in the middle of the first set against Gurnee Warren on Thursday, and the crowd’s response to the Crystal Lake South outside hitter’s kill mimicked that of a golf gallery: polite clapping, a few cheers and a low whistle. 

For the first time this volleyball postseason, the Gators didn’t have the raucous playoff atmosphere to help fuel their performance – a stark contrast to the din of Tuesday’s IHSA Class 4A sectional semifinal against Boylan inside Belvidere North’s gym. Thursday’s sectional final between the Blue Devils and the Gators was subdued and calm. 

But the Gators’ performance suited the scene. South was all business, using an efficient and sharp attack to dispatch Warren, 25-14, 25-20, and win the Belvidere North Sectional title. South advances to the Class 4A Huntley Supersectional against Lake Zurich at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. 

The Gators aren’t paced solely by the excitement of circumstance, anyway. At the start of the season, South’s players very clearly outlined their goals, which extend beyond Thursday night. A win against the Bears on Saturday now is the only thing standing in South’s way. 

“This was a big goal of ours,” Nolan said, “but we have one more big goal we still have to reach.”

South wasted little time establishing its offense. The Gators (35-3 overall) rattled off eight straight points thanks to three kills from middle hitter Nicole Slimko, and an ace and a kill from outside hitter Avalon Nero, a Nolan kill and a setter dump from Cassy Sivesind. Nolan helped extend the Gators’ cushion to 14-5 with three straight kills. 

The Blue Devils scored all but two of their first nine points on South errors. Setter Lauren Frericks served an ace to pull Warren within seven, 19-12, but South used a 6-2 run to close Game 1. 

Warren ran a slower offense than the Gators traditionally saw this season, which in and of itself was a challenge. 

“As soon as they got the ball over and we got it back up, we had to kill them with a fast tempo,” Sivesind said. “We had to put it down right away so we didn’t have to worry about the off-speed stuff.”

Warren middle hitter Kimberly Hengesh’s block in Game 2 marked the first time the Devils seriously threatened, and the blow forced South to take a timeout with a two-point lead, 14-12. But errors killed the Devils down the stretch, and Nolan, Nero and outside Sara Mickow capped the match with kills. 

“This really feels amazing,” Mickow said. “At first it seemed like this was so far away and now that it’s finally here and we have (the trophy) in our hands, it’s a really good feeling. Still, we’re just taking it one day at a time and looking forward to Saturday.”