NORMAL – For the 12th time in Game 3 of Saturday's Class 4A third-place match, Crystal Lake South and New Trier found themselves locked in yet another tie.
With each team only two points away from winning the match, the Trevians turned to one of their middle blockers, who the Gators had struggled to stop most of the night. New Trier's 6-foot-5 middle blocker Sarah Shafiq delivered the go-ahead kill and match-winning block as the Trevians outlasted South for the 22-25, 25-17, 25-23 win.
South's fourth-place finish in Class 4A caps its best season since 1995, when the Gators placed second in Class AA.
"It's been an amazing experience," senior middle blocker Nicole Slimko said. "Being together with everybody on the team, we're really close. It's just nice you get to share it with some of your best friends."
South (37-5) couldn't build off an impressive performance in the first game, which featured seven aces. At one point in Game 1, the Gators recorded seven of eight points off aces to take a 14-7 lead. During that stretch, Slimko tallied four straight aces.
"We scouted them a couple of times, and it didn't look like they had as tough of a serve," Trevians coach Hannah Hsieh said. "They held it for a long time. I think, in that first set, we came in kind of unsettled."
New Trier (31-4) led Game 2 from the opening point to set up the deciding third game. Neither team led by more than three points in Game 3, which had 12 ties and six lead changes. South led as late as 21-19 after an Avalon Nero ace. But two unforced errors quickly erased that advantage. South defensive specialist Tori Falbo's kill again tied the game at 23 before Shafiq (match-high 15 kills) took over for New Trier.
"The setter connection was a lot better this game, and it showed on the court I think that it improved a lot," South junior outside hitter Carly Nolan said.
The Trevians' improved passing allowed them to run their middle blockers more frequently as the match progressed, and the Gators struggled to slow them down. Complementing Shafiq, 6-foot-4 senior middle blocker Haley Fauntleroy recorded nine kills. Nolan led the Gators with 12 kills while Nero and Slimko added seven and five kills, respectively.
"We knew that the middles were going to be a challenge," South coach Jorie Fontana said. "Height is not something that's an easy fix sometimes right away. If they're a lot taller than we are, then we have to be creative in fixing it. But we knew we were going to up our defense."
Although the Gators didn't end the season with a win as they hoped, South believes it left everything they had on the volleyball court at Redbird Arena.
"I think this was a great game to go out on," Nero said. "I know for me I didn't leave any regrets on the court, and I'm happy with the way we played even though the outcome wasn't what we wanted."