The slam during Saturday's Grayslake Central Ram Slam staggered a Ram.
Poor Meghan Brewster could only smile as she got knocked backward. Somehow, amazingly, the Rams' junior setter managed to return the ball over the net, albeit out of bounds.
Later during the third set of the championship match, Richmond-Burton's hard-hitting 6-foot-1 junior Ali Frantti fired another volleyball off Brewster.
"(The first) one hit me right in the face," Brewster said. "I'm OK. I'm good now."
So was Grayslake Central.
Despite losing to Richmond-Burton 25-12, 23-25, 25-17 for the championship of their own one-day tournament, the Rams -- including Brewster -- had reason to smile. They finished 3-2 on the day (both losses were to Richmond-Burton) and avenged last season's regional-final loss to Johnsburg with a 25-20, 25-19 win in the semifinals of the first-place bracket.
"I think we played phenomenal," said Gabi Casper, Grayslake Central's junior outside hitter and three-year varsity starter, who had 36 kills in her team's five matches. "I think we all worked really well together. We had our ruts, but we got through it and played as a team. Which we had been struggling with."
Carmel Catholic defeated Johnsburg 25-21, 25-16 for third place, while Wauconda beat Grayslake North 25-21, 25-18 in the fifth-place match. Grayslake Central went home with a 4-3 overall record. The Rams start only two seniors in libero Marina Treato and defensive specialist Anna Strickland.
"We accomplished a couple of goals of ours today," coach Jason Janczak said. "We wanted to beat Johnsburg to get a little revenge after the regional (final) loss last year, and we wanted to get to the championship match. We were hoping to win. But pushing a team like Richmond-Burton to three (sets) is a really big step forward for us."
The host school had something else to be pleased about. In Janczak's six previous seasons as head coach, the Rams had never played for the title of their own tournament.
"We made some history," Brewster said. "It was a big deal. It was really cool to get in there and play (for the championship). It was fun to play in front of a bunch of fans."
After forcing a third set in the title match against Richmond-Burton, back-to-back aces by 6-1 junior Alexandria Dahlstrom helped keep the Rams close early. But 3 kills by Division I prospect Frantti and a pair by Alex Callanan helped the Rockets take a 14-10 lead.
Casper's kill staved off victory for R-B, before Frantti powered a kill through two blockers for the match winner.
Casper had a strong tournament. Grayslake Central's "new Klaudia," as a smiling Janczak called her, is the Rams' new go-to hitter with the graduation of three-time all-area pick Klaudia Basierak, who's now playing for the University of Dubuque.
"Sometimes there's pressure," Casper said. "But I like the pressure because it helps me play better."
Grayslake Central went 2-1 in pool play, capturing victories over Wauconda (25-12, 25-16) and Grayslake North's JV (25-13, 25-13) and losing to Richmond-Burton (25-22, 25-18).
"These girls started playing together really well," Janczak said. "It was really great to see, especially in the afternoon. That Johnsburg match, things started clicking."