Crystal Lake South advances, Huntley falls in volleyball sectional semifinals

BELVIDERE – Nicole Slimko pumped a fist and turned to celebrate, only to realize the hard-hit shot she’d smacked didn’t quite find the floor against Boylan’s defense. 

Regrouping, the Crystal Lake South senior middle hitter watched the Titans scramble through a play to try to stop a Gators run Slimko almost single-handedly fueled. The Gators had won the first set of Tuesday’s IHSA Class 4A Belvidere North Sectional semifinal, and Slimko wasn’t fazed by a Game 2 deficit. 

Rather, she decided to own it. 

Slimko blocked Penn State-bound setter and hitter Bryanna Weiskircher’s shot to earn the point that eluded her seconds earlier. The block pulled the Gators within one and capped a seven-point run that distanced South from a third game that had appeared imminent. 

Slimko’s final three kills and another explosive block willed the Gators to a 25-22, 26-24 victory against Boylan and a berth in Thursday’s sectional final at 7 p.m. South will face Gurnee Warren, which beat Huntley, 25-22, 25-21, in Tuesday’s other semifinal. 

After her teammates finished hugging her, Slimko gathered her thoughts and reiterated the sense of urgency that had been apparent in her play all night. 

“You have to put all you have into it,” Slimko said. “There is nothing else after this. If that was going to be the end of it, we’re done. We knew we had to bring it all and win this game.”

South led 10-4 in Game 1 on two straight aces from setter Cassy Sivesind and never looked back, despite Boylan’s late five-point run. Slimko and Sivesind combined for a block to put the Gators at game point, 24-21, and outside hitter Carly Nolan finished the game with a kill. 

Boylan went ahead 19-12 in Game 2 with a third set almost visible after Weiskircher’s shot down the line brought the Titans' fans to their feet.

Slimko knocked down a kill and a block before Boylan was called for a hitting violation to set up Slimko’s big-kill-that-wasn’t. Slimko tied the score at 21 on a kill to the outside corner, and the Gators never relented. 

“I think this was her best (match) as far as reacting,” South coach Jorie Fontana said. “She looked at the problem and became the solution to the problem, decided she was going to be the difference.”

Huntley (25-15), however, couldn’t solve Warren’s riddles. The Blue Devils built significant leads in both sets before the Red Raiders staged comebacks that ultimately fell short. 

Sophomore Erin Erb and junior Kelsey DeWulf helped cut the Raiders’ Game 1 deficit to one, 20-19, with three kills and an ace between them, but couldn’t get Huntley over the hump. Warren took a 13-3 advantage in Game 2, and led 24-16 before Huntley rallied to make it 24-21. The Raiders couldn’t find the five points they needed to force the third game, though. 

“I don’t think we came prepared for it,” senior outside hitter Emily Westermeyer said. “We’ve been doing so well, so I think we thought we would come in here and do well, too. We didn’t overlook Warren at all, but I don’t think we applied what we needed to. 

“It was just frantic. We knew what we needed to do, and we just couldn’t do it.”