Marian Central volleyball set for familiar opponent

The last time Marian Central met Chicago Payton in a supersectional remains firmly etched in Marian Central coach Laura Watling’s memory.

Watling, then an assistant to coach Deb Rakers, witnessed the Hurricanes fall apart in the Class 3A Grayslake Supersectional in 2008 against Payton, blowing a one-game lead with an ugly performance to deny them a state appearance. It’s a loss Watling hasn’t forgotten.

Watling and the Hurricanes have a chance to avenge that upset at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Class 3A Antioch Supersectional. With a win against Payton, Marian would advance to the state finals for the third time in four seasons. In 2010, the Hurricanes beat Payton in the third-place game, 2-0.

“It’s not hard to believe, but it’s surreal,” senior middle blocker Hannah Davis said of being on the cusp of the state finals.

Marian hasn’t relied on just one unit to carry the team through the postseason. Whether it’s the Hurricanes’ athletic blockers slowing down opponents’ hitters or their offense stepping up as it did in their Burlington Sectional final win on Thursday.

Marian’s versatility has created a dangerous team. A confident group heading into Saturday’s supersectional after finding a way to win the sectional title despite not playing their best against Burlington Central, the Hurricanes can’t be overlooked even with a 23-16 record.

“I feel like we’re in one of the hardest conferences in the state, so a lot of times our record is deceiving,” Davis said. “The combination of that and playing [strong teams], it really hurts our record. So during postseason we’re like, surprise!”

Senior outside hitter Frankie Taylor credits the Hurricanes coming together as a team over the course of the season as the biggest reason for their success. The players regularly send daily text messages to each other, offering words of encouragement without prompting from their coaches.

“I’ve never been so close with a team,” Taylor said. “You can ask anybody on the team out of the 15 girls we have, it’s about working as a team. We all do it and it’s not an individual sport at all. Everyone has to be on and has to push. It’s not a rollercoaster anymore; it’s straight to the top.”

Payton (26-11) last appeared in the state finals in 2010, finishing fourth in Class 3A. The Grizzlies, however, have won a sectional title in four of the past six seasons. Olivia Rozmus is one of Payton’s go-to hitters. She led the team with 13 kills in the sectional final win Thursday against Chicago Latin. One common opponent this season between the two teams is St. Ignatius. The Grizzlies lost to St. Ignatius 2-0 while Marian won 2-1.

Asked if she thought at the beginning of the season Marian would reach this point of the playoffs, Watling said, “not at all.”

“I knew we had talent, but because we are so young, I didn’t know if we would have the mental attitude and the confidence to put it all together by the time we got here,” Watling said. “They’ve been working hard and it’s been fantastic to see.”

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