NORMAL – This was not how it was supposed to end.
Not like this. Not when Cary-Grove’s girls volleyball team had gotten so close, set such lofty goals, dreamed such big dreams.
The sea of navy-and-white-clad fans fell completely silent while Lyons Township began celebrating on the other side of the net. The Trojans in concert put their heads in the hands.
The nation’s top-ranked team cried in sorrow instead of joy, and ended its season in pain instead of delirium.
Lyons defeated C-G, 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, to claim the IHSA Class 4A state championship Saturday at Redbird Arena, handing the Trojans their first loss since Oct. 1, 2009, snapping a 57-match winning streak and taking some of the luster off an extraordinary season.
“It takes a lot away from this season, honestly,” C-G coach Patty Langanis said. “We had a goal, and we were three or four points away from it.”
With their sights set on being the top-ranked high school volleyball team in the nation, the Trojans (41-1 overall) came to Redbird Arena with the intent of not only winning a second consecutive state title, but securing their spot as the nation’s best team.
The match against Lyons Township (41-1) was for a mythical national championship, the top-ranked Trojans taking on the No. 10 Lions with similar weapons and their own equally lofty goals.
C-G had faced some of the best teams in the nation already but the Lions proved to be the only team that could unravel C-G.
It started with the Lions’ defense; Illinois-bound hitters Jocelynn Birks and Alexis Viliunas further complicated matters.
But the Trojans’ errors hurt them more than any of the Lions’ kills or scrappy digs – 18 hitting errors and five service errors, uncharacteristic of a team that had played much of the season mistake-free.
“We weren’t playing Cary-Grove volleyball,” said senior setter Colleen Smith, wiping away tears.
After winning the second set, C-G felt the momentum swing firmly in its favor, and matched Lyons Township point-for-point before Birks’ three kills and three C-G errors helped the Lions build an 18-13 advantage.
“We had to keep it simple [in the third game]” said senior libero Sam Mainzer, “but we let them in.”
C-G cut its deficit to trail by three, 23-20, and Lamberti’s kill and a Mallory Wilczynski kill block to cut its deficit to one, 23-22.
Birks’ kill made it 24-22 and C-G earned sideout on a Lions service error, but couldn’t come up with the kill it needed to tie the score, the attempt going long out of bounds to give Lions match point.
Lamberti knocked down a match-high 21 kills and finished her state finals appearance with 33 – both new Class 4A individual state records.
But she’d hoped for so much more.
“It’s so sad that it’s over,” she said, “I can’t believe it.”
All season the Trojans had worn fake tattoos on their wrists, keeping the meaning of the symbol secret. As Langanis watched her team hold one another, weeping, she revealed that the symbol meant “Audacity.”
“We had the audacity, the guts and the bravery to make our goal becoming the national champions,” Langanis said. “We knew we could do it.”
And this was not how it was supposed to end.