CRYSTAL LAKE – Consider it a lesson learned.
For nearly a month, Crystal Lake South pointed to a rematch with crosstown rival Prairie Ridge, remembering how – in its only Fox Valley Conference Valley setback – the Gators had allowed the first-place Wolves to not only take the momentum, but then control it when it mattered most.
So when South nearly pulled off a second-game rally that would have completed a sweep of PR on Tuesday night, the Gators made sure the energy gained from almost wiping out a late deficit remained in their possession. And in a third and deciding game that seemed to remain up for grabs longer than either team wished, South wouldn’t allow the Wolves to swing the pendulum back in their favor.
Not this time. Not with so much at stake.
A 25-20 South win in the final set finished off PR, creating a tie at the top of the Valley standings and giving the Gators (22-6, 9-1 FVC Valley) a big dose of confidence heading into the regular season’s stretch run.
“We know we have the experience of being down and coming back, and also being in a tough situation and being able to win,” South senior libero Katie Meyers said. “This gives us a lot of confidence, but we also know there’s still games to play and we need to win those, too.”
South pulled out the back-and-forth match after gaining an early advantage with a 25-19 win. After PR seemed to have the edge in evening the match, leading 23-15 in the second set, the Gators made their move. South drew to within 24-23 after eight straight service points by Cassy Sivesind, who also finished with 14 assists.
But the Wolves (20-7, 8-1 FVC Valley) managed to stave off elimination, giving themselves a chance to still remain unbeaten in Valley play despite committing a host of unforced hitting errors that put them behind early. Mackenzie Humm led PR with five aces, 17 assists and seven kills while Taylor Otto (13 assists), Paige Dacanay (16 digs) and Caitlin Brauneis (10 kills) also helped keep the Wolves in it.
“We had a hard time getting into a rhythm,” PR coach Stefanie Otto said. “They kept taking us out it, we’d take ourselves out of it – so it came from both sides. But we’re still making errors and that doesn’t put us in the driver’s seat very often right now.”
But even after pulling even, the momentum Otto hoped to see carry over into the final set never did. But in a match between two teams that have handed the other its only Valley loss, Otto realized there was no room for error.
South capitalized on PR’s in ability to build on its second-set win, using a better passing game in the final set while also anticipating what was coming from the Wolves.
Meyers played a key role with 21 digs while Lindsey Murphy had 15 assists to go along with nine kills by Carly Nolan. South began to pull away midway through the set before holding odd South late in the 25-20 win celebrated by the Gators’ student section, which spilled onto the floor after the victory.
“You’re always evaluating yourself based on what you do and what the teams you play do,” South coach Jorie Fontana said. “So to come back and say [the first loss to PR] was a bad loss, but we just redeemed ourselves is building us up well to finish this conference well and go into the regional.”