Crystal Lake South volleyball coach Jorie Fontana pushes right buttons

Crystal Lake South volleyball coach Jorie Fontana was searching for a way to instill added motivation during the Gators’ postseason run.

Fontana, who described herself as being “known for her quotes and motivation,” twice during the playoffs showed her team inspirational YouTube videos of people overcoming obstacles.

“I try to realize that the true motivation’s going to come from themselves, but I like to push them in those moments when you can be motivated, and you can push yourself at any time, even when it doesn’t seem like it,” Fontana said. “Even when you think the opponent is going to be a pushover or not. They come to expect that from me.”

The Gators (37-3) have lived up to the pressure of being targeted en route to their first state appearance since 1996. South faces Benet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal in a Class 4A semifinal. While South boasts plenty of talent to warrant a successful season, Fontana’s guidance has been a game-changer for the Gators.

Before this season, the Gators had not won a regional or sectional title since 2008, Fontana’s first year as head coach. And as recently as 2011, South finished below .500 (13-22).

“I think the confidence she’s had in us since Day One has really rubbed off on us,” senior middle blocker Sara Mickow said of Fontana. “She’s been nothing but confident in us and our abilities. I think the fact she doesn’t waver from that really helps us stay level-headed and keep our goals in mind and not get away from them.”

Perhaps one of Fontana’s biggest challenges this season was adjusting her team’s mindset. Although the Gators have had some talent the past few years, they’ve been playing in more of an underdog role. Not this year. Fontana said there definitely was a mental adjustment in being prepared to face every team’s best effort.

Junior setter Cassy Sivesind explained Fontana made them believe they were capable of getting to state and that her intensity is always apparent, noting “you can see she really wants it.”

“I think you always have this goal [of making state] – it’s either a goal that can be accomplished in a year or a goal that can be accomplished in four or five years,” Fontana said. “I think from taking over the program there was so much history and tradition here that there’s that little bit of pressure to constantly maintain it, let’s keep this level up, but let’s always search for more and portraying that to the girls.”

Through the confidence she’s instilled in her players and the bond developed among the Gators, Fontana has brought South back to relevancy. With the Gators playing at state for the first time in 17 years, Fontana’s work isn’t quite finished this season.

“My job, I think as a coach and anyone who’s a coach, is to maintain motivation, to reach the potential you can in the year and to constantly help them improve,” Fontana said. “Your job is still to make sure that when this team leaves they’re better than when they came in.”