CRYSTAL LAKE – If Crystal Lake Central continues to play at the same level it did during Thursday's dominant Fox Valley Conference road win over Prairie Ridge, there's no telling how far it might go.
The Tigers (22-1, 11-1 FVC) trailed only once the entire match – the first point of the second set – and looked stellar during a 25-6, 25-8 victory against a Wolves program that finished fourth in the state in Class 4A last season.
In fairness, Prairie Ridge (10-9, 7-5) lost multiple Division I players to graduation during the offseason. Nonetheless, Central could do little wrong, combining for 12 kills, five aces and a block in the opening set alone.
"We were having a lot of fun together as a team tonight," Tigers junior outside hitter Maddy McCormick said. "We kept our energy level up the entire time. It was amazing. I love when we're in a flow like that, because when we are, we feel like we're unstoppable."
Even Central coach Lisa Brunstrum couldn't help but smile big multiple times on the bench because of the effort she saw from her players against their crosstown rivals.
"This is the third night in a row we've played," Brunstrum said. "We struggled a little bit on Tuesday night [against Burlington Central] but won. "We played really well last night [against Geneva]. But honestly, we got a big lift getting [senior] Madde Blake back on Tuesday."
Blake was sidelined with an ankle injury for 21 days before returning.
"I was supposed to be out 60 days, but I've had tremendous support and help from my trainer," Blake said. "I really took time to properly rest it and do whatever I was told I needed to do to help it heal quicker."
Blake, along with several other current Central players, were members of the Tigers' team that went downstate in 2017 when she was a sophomore. That experience could be a huge factor down the stretch as Central tries to keep pace with first-place Huntley, which remains a match ahead in the loss column in the FVC.
When the postseason starts later this month, Central will be back in Class 3A for the first time since 2011. That, too, could be a big benefit.
"You don't want to look too far ahead or guess too much about how good we might be capable of being before we get to that point," Blake said. "But here we are as a program with 20-plus wins yet again, and that's huge. It makes us feel like our dreams are reachable."
Prairie Ridge got a team-best three kills from senior Trinity Sheridan, two kills from sophomore Ansley Morlock and five digs apiece from Hannah Baudin and Olivia Jost.
"Right now, we're trying to find our identity and looking for players to step up for us as leaders," Wolves coach Stefanie Otto said. "Central was outstanding tonight. But we didn't help our cause with our poor serve receive, either."
After the match, Prairie Ridge held a players-only meeting.
"I encouraged that because they have to work on team cohesiveness," Otto said. "That's the big thing. They told me they talked to each other about playing for each other. We want them to generate positivity and communication among one another. Both in practice and during matches. They don't want an outcome like this to happen again."
STAR OF THE MATCH
Maddy McCormick, Crystal Lake Central, jr., OH
The Colorado State recruit finished with 11 digs, five kills, an ace and 10 service points.
3: Sets the Tigers have lost since Sept. 12. They lost two sets that night against Huntley, which is their only loss. They also dropped a set Tuesday in a win over Burlington Central.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
"I was on the bench as a JV player the night [the 2017 team] clinched a berth to state," McCormick said. "That memory motivates me to want to make that happen again. That environment was amazing."