At the beginning of the season, Crystal Lake South volleyball coach Jorie Fontana asked her players the question they needed to answer before taking the court for the first time.
What’s the intention this year?
At first, the room was rather quiet, the players somewhat nervous to articulate the depth of their ambitions. Then, one player timidly raised her hand.
“We’re going to state,” she said, almost asking.
There it was.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s not a goal when you just sit back and say it,’” Fontana said. “You have to stand up and shout it.”
So the Gators did, realizing they had enough talent on the roster to set the state semifinals at Illinois State University’s Redbird Area as a legitimate goal. At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the Gators will face Lake Zurich in the Class 4A Huntley Supersectional with a chance to appear in next weekend’s state tournament.
The winner will face the winner of the Normal Supersectional between Normal and Benet Academy in the state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“The girls really declared [their goal] with a nice strong affirmation, and then after that it’s just been one step further, one step further,” Fontana said. “It’s all about taking steps.”
Every moment of the season has been about living within the moment. Despite knowing what it wanted, South tried never to look past any opponent. Before games and even during timeouts, Fontana would ask the players what they were learning, what they could take from the match, how it was helping them reach the next step and what they could change so the experience had a greater impact.
The Gators (36-3) certainly will need to apply what they’ve learned Saturday. The Bears (35-4) are a formidable opponent with five seniors who are just as determined as South to extend their season. Lake Zurich is led by setter Kristen Walding, who is committed to Northeastern University (Mass.). Walding spreads the ball between hitters Mallory Parsons, Allie McIlwain, Mickenzie Andrews, Duquesne University-bound Sydney Glover and Kiley McPeek, who is headed to Cornell.
South will counter with its own throng of weapons. Setter Cassy Sivesind can go to Troy University-bound Avalon Nero, Bowling Green recruit Nicole Slimko or Carly Nolan, who has not yet committed. Sara Mickow is also a significant threat, as well as Katy Hoenle and Emma Burkle. The Gators’ defense has been stout thanks to libero Hannah Wilson and defensive specialist Tori Falbo.
“I think, with the group of girls we have, and the bond we all have, I think we knew we could (get here),” said Mickow after the Gators’ sectional title victory against Warren on Thursday. “I think we’ve become very mentally strong and, in the end, I do think our goal is attainable. We’re going to push really, really hard to get there.”