Crystal Lake South volleyball renews winning tradition

For years, Crystal Lake South’s girls volleyball program was one of the state’s most revered. Between 1991 and 1996, South made five appearances in the state tournament, placing second twice and capturing a third- and fourth-place finish. In its 1996 appearance, South lost in the Elite Eight, which was played at the state tournament under the IHSA’s old two-class system. 

At 7:30 p.m. Friday, South will return to the state tournament for the first time in 17 years and face two-time reigning Class 4A state champion Benet Academy in a semifinal. Some of the Gators’ biggest fans will be the women who helped build South into a powerhouse. Here, some of South’s former players share memories and anecdotes from those state tournament runs. 

Tarrifa (Smith) Paduch, outside hitter

What South did:  1991- Lost in the Class AA state finals to Belleville West to finish second; 1992- Beat Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin to finish third

“Going to state was just sheer excitement. It was very intense and the adrenaline was just so high. I think the thing that was more impressive was the fan base that showed up for us. They gave the students a half day from school so they could come down and watch the match, and we had so many fans there.

“We had our 20-year high school reunion, and (our state appearances) were some of the moments we talked about most. Those were some of the best memories we made as a class. It wasn’t just the players. That was a big part of everyone’s high school experience.

“If I were to give these girls any advice, it would be to take a deep breath and enjoy the entire experience. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. And just keep doing what you’ve been doing. Focus on how you’ve been playing all year.”

Erin (Beck) Kafka, setter, former assistant coach

What South did: 1991- finished second; 1992- finished third; 1993-  Lost to Hersey to finish fourth

“A few years ago, when South redid all the state title banners in the gym, I got the one from my senior year (1993). Every year, I take it out and show it to my second-graders (at Deer Path Elementary in Cary). I’m so proud of what we were able to accomplish and everything South volleyball is. What a proud moment it is to see another team from South (go downstate).

“At that time, we certainly were one of the teams that people looked to beat. We were one of the programs in the state that everyone knew about. … We would time ourselves to see how quickly we could beat opponents.

“Setting for the first time in (Redbird Arena) was unbelievable. Those first few plays, adjusting to the layout and walking into that locker room, that’s something that you don’t experience in high school. It was just amazing.”

Jill (Campione) Pearce, middle hitter, former assistant coach 

What South did: 1995 - Lost to Mother McAuley to finish second; 1996 - Lost in the Elite Eight to Palos Hills Stagg 

“I see a lot of similarities between this year’s South team and the ‘96 team. Really strong hitters, very strong serve-receive and just very offensive. We had a lot of weapons, and we could spread the attack. I think this South team can do that too. 

“Back in that time, we didn’t have rally scoring, so you were only scoring when you had sideout. … It was always us and Crystal Lake Central battling in a sectional. And games were always (scoring) into the 20s even though we only played to 15. Volleyball was just always so strong.

“(Playing for South) is something you carry with you forever. It’s a legacy you leave. It was truly an honor to be a part of it. … I remember some of these girls, too. Avalon Nero, Carly Nolan, Cassy Sivesind, they were all little third graders at Indian Prairie (Elementary) when (former Gators coach Laura Jensen) would bring us to the school to read to the kids. It’s amazing to think about now.”

Lisa Reddish, middle hitter, current Crystal Lake Central head coach

What South did: 1996- Lost in the Elite Eight to Palos Hills Stagg

“The standards were set in ‘91, ‘92 and ‘93, and we were Gator Volleyball. It was like, ‘This is what we want, and what we want we will work for.’ 

“We sang all the time. Every match, there was a different senior who would lead a song. We didn’t have iPods or iPhones, so we had to entertain ourselves. We also made little ribbons for our shoes. It was to remind us to start every match off on the right foot. It was something small that brought the team together, and no one else really knew about it. 

“I remember walking into that arena and warming up on the floor with the screen above my head. Those are lifetime memories I’ll never forget. We had signs in our yards that said ‘Good luck at state,’ with our names and numbers on them. These are things I saved.

“As sad as I am that we lost this year (to South in the Dundee-Crown regional final), I’m so happy for that program. I want to see those girls do well and represent our area. If we can’t be there, I’m glad they are.”

Scott Beutlich, assistant coach, 1988-98

What South did: 1991 - second place; 1992 - third place; 1993 - fourth place; 1995 - second place; 1996 - Elite Eight appearance

“I didn’t see this South team play during the regular season but I saw their supersectional (against Lake Zurich). They are the same caliber as the teams we had in the 90s. Very good hitters and good passers. (Head coach) Jorie (Fontana) is a great leader and a great coach. They just have to keep doing what they’re doing. She has a great feel for how to handle the players and I have a great amount of respect for her. 

That Belleville West final, when we lost in ‘91, we only needed four points in the second game to win a state title. We couldn’t get them, and then we scored only four points in the third game. Our middle hitter got hurt and things kind of went down from there. In ‘94, the only reason we didn’t go downstate was because of Lindsay Trudell at Schaumburg. She had 38 kills in the sectional final against us and, at the time, that was a state record. We had a string going until then.

“Ola Bundy used to run volleyball for the IHSA and she liked our teams very much. One year we gave her a pair of alligator hand mittens. Our fans used to wear them during the alligator cheer. She was thrilled to get those.”