Athlete of the Week
Huntley, fr., S
The freshman setter helped lead the Red Raiders to their first Fox Valley Conference volleyball championship in school history, passing out 39 assists in a thrilling 25-20, 33-35, 25-16 win against Crystal Lake South and 25 more in the conference clincher, a 25-20, 25-19 win against Prairie Ridge.
Huntley is looking to win its third regional title in four years as the Class 4A playoffs start this week.
Northwest Herald Power Rankings
1. Marian Central (34-1): The Hurricanes captured the East Suburban Catholic Conference title with an 18-25, 25-23, 25-23 victory against Benet, finishing the confernce season 7-0. Senior outside hitter Sydney Nemtuda (Florida Atlantic) had 15 kills in the win. Marian is 73-4 the past two seasons and has won 18 in a row heading into the playoffs.
2. Huntley (25-7): The Red Raiders beat Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge to clinch their first FVC championship, finishing with a 14-2 record in the conference. Senior outside hitter Ally Dion (Southeast Missouri State) had a huge week with 25 digs, 23 kills and three aces against South and 10 kills and 11 digs against Prairie Ridge.
3. Crystal Lake Central (23-8): The Tigers ended the conference season with a 25-21, 16-25, 25-17 win over Prairie Ridge. Central was second in the FVC at 13-3, one loss behind Huntley. Two of their losses came against the Raiders. Despite being one of the youngest teams in the area, the Tigers consistently were one of the best.
4. Cary-Grove (21-10): The Trojans closed the FVC season with wins over Hampshire and Crystal Lake South, leapfrogging Prairie Ridge in the conference standings for third place at 12-4. Senior outside hitter Maddy Katchen and junior setter Amber Olson are looking to lead C-G to another deep postseason run.
5. Prairie Ridge (18-13): The Wolves lost to Crystal Lake Central and Huntley but were without South Carolina commit Genesis Sheridan, who was out sick. Prairie Ridge finished fourth in the FVC at 11-5 but battled multiple injuries and concussions late in the season. Coach Stefanie Otto is hopeful the Wolves will be closer to 100 percent as the playoffs start.
National honors: Marian Central senior setter McKayla Wuensch was named a top-five Player of the Year candidate in Illinois at PrepVolleyball.com, announced last week. Wuensch, who will play next year at Nevada, has helped lead the Hurricanes to a 73-4 record the past two years running Marian's 5-1 offense.
Wuensch is the only setter on the list; the other four are outside hitters. As a team, Marian is ranked No. 16 in the country by PrepVolleyball.com, and No. 15 by MaxPreps.com.
This season, Wuensch has recorded 733 assists, 29 aces, 100 kills and 177 digs. She had a season-high six kills against Benet last week that clinched the team's first outright ESCC title.
Five different players have 100 kills for the Hurricanes, including Nemtuda (279), Lauren Hanlon (240), Brenna Koch (157), Rachel Noonan (138) and Wuensch. Libero Meghan Schwallie leads the defense with 391 digs and has a team-best 37 aces.
Marian, the defending Class 3A state champion, has won 11 straight regional titles and five of the past six sectional titles. Hurricanes coach Laura Watling is 237-79 in seven-plus years, a .750 winning percentage.
Playoff notes: Six local teams won a regional title last year, including Marian Central, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge and Richmond-Burton.
The Trojans claimed their 11th regional title in school history last year and went on to place third in Class 4A, while the Rockets, Tigers and Wolves all won regional titles for the first time in four years. Marian has won regionals every year since 2005, and South has won three in a row.
Huntley was one win away from their third straight regional title last year, losing to C-G. If they win their Class 4A Harlem Regional semifinal Tuesday, they'll face either McHenry or Dundee-Crown in the final, and the top-seeded Raiders went 2-0 against both teams this year in FVC play.
As many as five of the six regional winners from last year have a chance to repeat, as Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge could meet up in a Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional final. The Wolves swept South in both regular-season meetings this season.
Marian Central is a No.1 seed and begins its state title defense against the winner of Intrinsic and Alcott in the Class 3A Vernon Hills Regional semifinals. Marian's path to state would stay close to home after the regional round, with a sectional hosted by Woodstock and a supersectional hosted by the Hurricanes.
Richmond-Burton is the highest seed (No. 4) in the Class 3A Woodstock North Regional, and could face Marian Central in a sectional semifinal. The Hurricanes eliminated R-B in the sectional semifinals last year en route to their first state championship.
This week's top matches
McHenry vs. Dundee-Crown
Class 4A Harlem Regional
6:30 p.m. Tuesday
The eighth-seeded Warriors and ninth-seeded Chargers split the season series, 1-1, with both matches going to three sets. McHenry most recently beat D-C, 22-25, 25-13, 25-19, Oct. 11.
The winner likely will face the sectional's No. 1 seed, Huntley, in the regional final Thursday.