Crystal Lake South volleyball team earns trip to state

HUNTLEY – Every day before practice, Crystal Lake South’s volleyball players glance up at the state series banners lining the gym and note the year 1996.  

Most of the girls on this year’s Gators team were either not born or much too young to remember South’s last trip to state. To this Gators team, 1996 is vintage. 

On Saturday night, what was old became new again. 

As soon as Lake Zurich’s final serve hit the middle of the net and gently bounced back onto the Bears’ side of the court, the Gators put Crystal Lake South’s program back on the state map. South beat Lake Zurich, 25-18, 25-18, to win the Class 4A Huntley Supersectional and earn a trip to the state semifinals. 

The Gators will play Benet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena in Normal for a chance to play in Saturday’s state championship match.

“There’s a lot of history up there with Crystal Lake South, and in recent years, there hasn’t been that presence,” South coach Jorie Fontana said. “This was something we knew we wanted to accomplish, and it’s awesome to see it come true.”

South’s determination was clear from the outset Saturday. The Gators (37-3) never trailed the Bears (35-5) in Game 1 and rolled out a 3-0 lead behind kills from Sara Mickow, Avalon Nero and Nicole Slimko. South jumped ahead by seven, 17-10, after a 7-1 run that featured kills from Slimko and Nero and three Bears errors. 

Trailing 23-14, Lake Zurich capitalized on three South errors and a kill from outside hitter Sydney Glover to trail 23-18. But a Bears hitting error and middle hitter Katy Hoenle’s point off a joust gave South game point. 

“We were watching film and looking for their open spots,” Slimko said. “We knew we had to go there immediately and shut it down right away.”

Lake Zurich led 2-1 in Game 2 on a kill from Allie McIlwain but never led again. Two kills from outside hitter Carly Nolan sparked the Gators’ offense, and South built a 12-5 advantage behind assorted Bears errors and kills from Mickow and Nero. 

The Bears are known for bunch blocking, so South setter Cassy Sivesind was strategic with every pass. She distributed the ball evenly, and the Gators hit deep, often catching Lake Zurich out of system. 

Defensively, the Gators didn’t flinch. Nolan, Nero and Sivesind combined for 26 digs while defensive specialist Tori Falbo notched eight. 

“I didn’t think either team hit very well tonight, I really don’t,” Lake Zurich coach Matt Aiello said. “[South is] a much better hitting team than they showed and we’re a much better hitting team than we showed. [South] just played great defense. … Every swing we did get, they were keeping it in play. I think that wore my girls down a little bit.”

A Lake Zurich hitting error put the Gators at match point, 24-16. The Bears scored two final points on a kill from Mallory Parsons and a South shot that went out of bounds, but Parsons’s final serve went into the net to give South match point. 

“It was unreal,” said Nero of the moment. “I’m still trying to come to the realization that we get to go to state.”