Crystal Lake South girls volleyball coach Jorie Fontana was direct with her girls before Tuesday's showdown for first place in the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division against visiting Prairie Ridge, the team that tagged the Gators with their only division loss on Sept. 13.
"The pregame speech was all about whether you truly want it or not," Fontana said.
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With the match tied 19-19 in the third game, the Gators answered their coach and thrilled the enthusiastic home crowd with a 6-1 run to close out a 25-19, 23-25, 25-20 victory on Volley for the Cure night at Gator Alley.
"We wanted it a lot," CL South sophomore outside hitter Carly Nolan said. "We've been talking about it ever since we lost to them. We wanted to take it and we wanted to win. I don't know what to say about it. I'm just ecstatic."
So were Nolan's peers. The CL South student section charged the floor in celebration after a tense match littered with momentum swings. "That was amazing," Nolan added. "You don't see raiding the court much in volleyball."
The win gives CL South (22-6, 9-1) control of its title destiny with 2 matches remaining. The Gators play at Dundee-Crown on Thursday and host Jacobs (25-7, 6-3) next Tuesday in their FVC Valley finale.
"We're glad to have this behind us now," said CL South senior middle Kylie Portera. "We're ready to push forward, but we know we have to stay focused and push in every other game we have."
Prairie Ridge (20-7, 8-1) has a slightly tougher road to navigate. The Wolves must travel to Jacobs on Thursday, host McHenry (11-15, 1-8) next Tuesday and host Cary-Grove (17-13, 5-5) in their finale on Oct. 18.
Portera and Nolan delivered with the match on the line. Tied at 19-19, Portera blasted a clutch kill from the middle, courtesy of a Nicole Jurkash assist. Nolan followed with a swing from the left side that caromed off the Prairie Ridge block out of bounds for a 21-19 lead.
Prairie Ridge subsequently made an unforced hitting error to hand the Gators a 3-point advantage. That was a common theme for the Wolves, who converted only 33 of 53 attempts to finish with a .623 attack percentage.
"We made a lot of unforced hitting errors throughout the night, and when you do that it's hard to get into a groove and a rhythm," Prairie Ridge coach Stefanie Otto said. "They kept taking us out of it, and we would take ourselves out of it. It came from both sides, from my perspective.
"I think South played a really good game. They were hitting really well. They didn't make many errors, and they didn't make many serving errors. They played pretty solid."
Junior Avalon Nero kept the pressure on the Wolves with 2 blasts from the right side to gain match point. The Wolves stopped the bleeding momentarily with a spike from sophomore middle Ali Witt, but Nolan clinched the victory with a smash that deflected off two defenders before finding the floor.
"That's playing our game," Fontana said of the big swings by her team in the stretch run. "As I told the girls, we're not those finesse, little, dinky hitters who can pick out a dime on the floor and actually hit it. We're kind of the big ballers that are going up to swing. We're the big swingers. Them coming up big at those times was great.
"It's a proud win for the girls. You're always measuring yourself by the wins and losses that you've had, so to come back and redeem yourself after a loss that they took pretty hard is quite an accomplishment."
Nero and Nolan each had 9 kills for the Gators. Senior libero Katie Meyers had (21 digs), Jurkash 16 digs, senior Lindsey Murphy finished with 15 assists and sophomore Cassy Sivesind added 14 assists.
Senior Mackenzie Humm led Prairie Ridge with 17 assists, 7 kills and 5 aces. Senior Caitlin Brauneis notched 10 kills, senior Paige Dacanay had 16 digs and junior Taylor Otto contributed 13 assists.
The teams could meet again on Thursday, Oct. 25 if postseason seedings hold. In pairings released Tuesday by the IHSA, CL South is the No. 2 seed and Prairie Ridge is seeded No. 1 in the Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional.