A slow start from Jacobs' girls volleyball team against Cary-Grove in the semifinals of the Jacobs Invitational on Saturday didn't foretell anything special.
The Golden Eagles had other ideas.
After dropping the first set, 25-10, Jacobs earned a hard-fought 25-23 victory in the second set.
In the third, both teams took it to another level.
Jacobs fought off five match points against the Trojans – at 25-24, 26-25, 28-27, 29-28 and 30-29 – before C-G outside hitter Julia Rice came through with the last kill on a bump assist from Mia Soltis, ending the marathon match of 1 hour, 35 minutes that featured more than 30 lead changes. The third set ended at 32-30.
Jacobs trailed by as many as seven points in the third, while C-G fought off match points at 24-23 and 27-26 as players, coaches and fans trickled into the main gym to see how the match would end.
"They played with so much heart," Jacobs coach Lisa Dwyer said. "I had a feeling we would catch up again. I didn't know how they'd do it, but that was so fun. We've come around a lot. We're actually adjusting in matches, which is a huge growth.
"We're young, but our hearts are so big. They surprised me, but in a very good way."
Late in the third, Jacobs setter Rachel Kaczorowski appeared to have seriously injured her ankle diving and saving a ball headed for the line that led to a big kill and point from Maggie Wallenberger, cutting C-G's lead to 21-19. To the surprise of many, she made a return.
"She kept telling me, 'I want to play,'" Dwyer said. "I told her, 'Hold on, let's see what the trainer says. Let's make sure this is not broken.' She stood up, and she was fine. You've got to love it."
Jacobs (6-3) had a big turnaround last year, going from 8-25 and 2-14 in the FVC to 15-18 and 7-9.
Other coaches have taken notice.
"That was a fun match," C-G coach Patty Langanis said. "It's exciting to see Jacobs play so well and with that much heart and passion. Those are matches you need right now in the season. I'm happy that we were able to come out on top. It shows our girls that when those matches get tight, that's what you have do do to finish.
"Jacobs wasn't letting anything drop. It took everything we had."
Wallenberger, a 6-foot junior, finished the tournament with 46 kills in five matches. Dwyer has been impressed by the growth of one of the area's top hitters.
"We just started playing [Wallenberger] in the back row, and her offense has added so much," Dwyer said. "It's a work in progress, but she has learned a ton, and she's still learning. She's showing us what she has to offer. She's starting to play defense. We said, 'Now you've got to continue to step up, because other teams are going to go after you.'
"She's always been a great hitter, but she's now being that leader, really having a voice."
She does it all: Woodstock senior Sophie Wicker is a three-year starter for the Blue Streaks. The 5-foot-7 Wicker also is one of the team's most versatile players, switching positions from libero during club season to setter during high school.
"Sophie brings whatever the team needs from her," second-year coach Jill Rokosik said. "She brings the energy when it's needed. She brings the calm when it's needed. She plays libero in club, so she doesn't actually set year-round.
"It's a real testament to her leadership that she can pick it up right away."
Woodstock started Kishwaukee River Conference play Monday with a win over defending conference champion Johnsburg. The Streaks are 8-0 and have not lost a set this season.
A year ago, Woodstock lost to Carmel in a Class 3A regional final. That has served as extra motivation for Wicker and the Streaks, who have not won a postseason title in 13 years. They're hoping to end the drought this season.
"Our expectation is to win conference this year," Wicker said. "That's one of our main goals. We were so close to winning a regional title. This year that's one of our biggest motivations to being successful."
Wicker and teammate Hanna Berry were named to the Under Armour All-America Watch List last month.
NORTHWEST HERALD POWER RANKINGS
1. Crystal Lake Central (10-0): The Tigers won the Jacobs Invitational title for the third straight year but lost four-year varsity player Madde Blake to an ankle injury. Central has not lost a set during its 10-match winning streak.
2. Huntley (6-0): The Red Raiders have played only one match outside of the FVC, a two-set victory over Carmel. That win looks even more impressive after Carmel knocked off nationally ranked Marist on Tuesday.
3. Prairie Ridge (4-2): The Wolves, who took fourth at the Class 4A state tournament last season, are the defending FVC champions. Prairie Ridge's two losses are to Crystal Lake Central and St. Charles North. The Wolves didn't have UNLV commit Trinity Sheridan (back injury) in their loss to St. Charles North, but she has since returned.
4. Cary-Grove (8-3): The Trojans finished runner-up at the Jacobs Invitational with a 25-9, 25-16 loss to Central in the championship match. C-G fell to Central in FVC play again Tuesday, and its other loss is to Huntley.
5. Woodstock (8-0): The Blue Streaks are perfect so far. Woodstock defeated defending KRC champion Johnsburg, 25-11, 25-18, Monday.
WHAT TO WATCH
Crystal Lake Central at Huntley, 6 p.m. Thursday: It's a volleyball showdown. The winner will take the early lead in the FVC race.
Huntley at Prairie Ridge, 6 p.m. Tuesday: Huntley handed Prairie Ridge its only conference loss last season. The Wolves went on to win the FVC at 15-1.
Woodstock at Woodstock North, 6 p.m. Wednesday: The winner between the city rivals will have an early edge in the KRC race.