Crystal Lake South ready for tough opponent

Crystal Lake South has waited 17 years to return to the volleyball state finals, and for the Gators to win the school's first state title they will have to take down one of the best programs in the state.

South coach Jorie Fontana is well aware of the success Benet has experienced the past couple of the years. The Redwings have won back-to-back Class 4A titles and face the Gators in Friday's state semifinal at 7:30 p.m.

"[Benet] will be confident going into it, at least having done this before recently," Fontana said. "My girls are going to need to prepare mentally for that and get beyond that. But we'll be ready."

Benet (35-5) boasts five players with at least 114 kills, led by junior middle hitter Rachael Fara's 235 kills. The 6-foot-3 Fara is one of five Redwings who stand at least 5-foot-11 presenting a potentially tough block for the Gators to work around at the net.

Overall depth and quality play at every position are the Redwings biggest assets. Defensively, the Gators (37-3) have the players to challenge Benet. Anchored by senior libero Hannah Wilson, who has recorded 235 digs this season, South doesn't allow offenses many clean kills. 

"They want to continue to win and be successful, it drives them and they know what it feels like to win a state title," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "They want to win it all."

Baker said his team will have to defend "extremely well" against a good offensive team in South with a focus on slowing down the Gators' big hitters. 

"We’ve gone through about 15 different lineups and we finally settled on one in the postseason that’s worked well," Baker said. "We’ve had so many different kids step up at various times. We feel pretty good about everyone right now."

The Gators have plenty of firepower of their own, paced by junior outside hitter Carly Nolan and her 367 kills - the most by any player in the Class 4A state finals.

Flanked by senior outside hitter Avalon Nero (239 kills), senior middle blocker Nicole Slimko (231 kills) and senior middle blocker Sara Mickow (94 kills), Nolan will have plenty of support.

Fontana believes Nolan will be ready for the challenge of Benet trying to shut her down, like most teams have attempted to do this season.

"She's been the person people focus on for obvious reasons and she's always handled it well," Fontana said. "You don't see her breakdown from it and she will talk to the other girls and start pushing other people because getting them fired up only helps her.

"Them targeting her will be no different than the game plans I've heard of in the past."