Only once in Crystal Lake Central volleyball coach Lisa Brunstrum’s seven years has her team ended the season with double-digit losses. All seven teams have won at least 26 matches and four – including this year’s – have reached 30 wins.
What makes this year’s Tigers team different, Brunstrum said, is the preparation and extra work that goes on behind the scenes.
“This is a team that when they play together and really have a good time, they can do amazing things,” Brunstrum said. “The amount of time and effort they put into a practice, the amount of time and effort they put in on their own. Watching game film, doing research, preparing for matches, talking to each other about plays they want to run on offense.
“This group just pushes that extra mile. They go an extra sprint when they don’t have to.”
The extra work has paid off. At approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday, the Tigers (33-3) will play Marist (39-1) in a Class 4A girls volleyball state semifinal at Ilinois State University’s Redbird Arena in Normal. The winner will play St. Charles North (36-3) or Minooka (38-2) in the championship on Saturday.
This is Central’s third time at state since winning the 3A championship in 2007. The Tigers took fourth in 2009 (3A) and also advanced to state in 1989 (AA).
Brunstrum said the Tigers will have their hands full against a RedHawks team that has won 30 straight matches and lost only one match all season to last year’s state champion, Mother McAuley.
Seniors Savannah Thompson (382 kills) and Maggie Meyer (358 kills) lead Marist, which beat the defending Class 3A state champion (Marian Central) and Class 4A state champion Mother McAuley in the postseason.
“I’d like to see us play our game,” Brunstrum said of facing Marist. “I would like us to be as prepared for this opportunity just as much as the other postseason matches that we’ve played. I would like to see us step out on the court and play the best game that we possibly can against a great team.”
The Tigers enter the state semifinals with only three losses, twice losing to Huntley and once to Minooka. Brunstrum said she has seen the team’s confidence grow throughout the season and playoffs.
“One thing we’ve been able to do in the postseason is keep our composure,” Brunstrum said. “Whether we’re up by five or down by five, or we give up three points, this team just plays the same way. ... They play with a certain level of confidence, that, ‘Hey, we can really do this.’ ”
Madde Blake (288 digs) leads a balanced Central offense with 220 kills, followed by Emily Kelly (191 kills), Camryn Hausler (183) and Megan Kelly (180). Megan Kelly (324 assists) has 113 blocks, and freshman Madeline Timmerman (86 kills) has 112.
Kendall Lownds leads the team with 490 digs, Olivia Doak has 461 assists and 36 aces, and Emily Kelly has 314 digs and 37 aces. Hausler (30 aces) is third on the Tigers with 83 blocks, and Paige Hulata (98 kills) has 72.
“Being happy for each other and playing for each other is a huge piece to our success,” Blake said of the Tigers’ balanced offense. “Working together and working for each other has helped this season.”
Central and Marist have three common opponents: Prairie Ridge, Marian Central and Minooka. Marist beat all three teams. Since losing to Minooka on Sept. 16, 25-20, 25-21, the Tigers have won 18 of 19 matches.
They’ll get two more matches this weekend, no matter what happens Friday.
“We’re just going to have fun and play our game,” Megan Kelly said. “We’re just focused on each other.”