Ending the high school career of a player who's exhibited excellence would require matching it.
"We talked about being excellent tonight," Grayslake Central coach Jason Janczak said after his volleyball girls rallied past Wauconda 19-25, 25-21, 25-14 to win a Class 3A regional-final thriller at North Chicago Thursday night.
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The Rams weren't perfect, but when the opponent features one of the best volleyball players Lake County has seen the last four seasons, grinding works just as well as excellent execution.
Wauconda senior setter/outside hitter Megan Tallman pounded 16 kills, dished out 15 assists and recorded 15 digs in her finale, as her future Indiana University assistant coach sat in attendance. Tallman committed to IU last year and will sign her national letter of intent next month.
While Grayslake Central improved to 24-13 and earned a berth in Tuesday's 7 p.m. Marian Central sectional semifinal against the host school, Wauconda finished 22-13.
"I couldn't have asked for a better team to finish my senior year with," said Tallman, who will graduate along with Emily Holub, Stephanie Schaer, Jordan Draegert, Kristen Pizarro and Lexie Redmann. "It's just sad that it's over."
"She's a great kid. She's a great player," first-year Wauconda coach Alison Williams said of Tallman, a four-time all-area player. "She did a lot for us. She was one of our leaders and our go-to person. She was fun to work with. I wish her all the best when she goes off to Indiana. I know she'll be great there."
Wauconda, which was the top seed in the regional, played great volleyball in the opening set against the second-seeded Rams. Susan Karhoff hammered 5 of her 15 kills, and Tallman tallied seven. Each player also served an ace. Holub's block ended Set 1.
"I think they just really outworked us in that game," said Grayslake Central's Alex Dahlstrom, who hammered a team-best 10 kills. "Not that we weren't working hard. They just played a little better than we did."
Grayslake Central prevailed in a near evenly played second set, then spurted to an 8-4 lead in the decisive game behind the serving of Gabi Casper (8 kills, 19 digs). Lexi Beckman contributed a block and kill during the run. As the match progressed, Wauconda's young squad -- which featured three freshmen -- started making more and more unforced errors.
"A lot of unforced errors, and I think our inexperience caught up to us a little bit," Williams said.
Grayslake Central's own freshman, Allie Daul, picked up her game in the third set.
"Allie Daul was putting up an amazing block on one of their good hitters (Karhoff)," Dahlstrom said. "That just helped so much. Our passing was good, Meghan (Brewsters's) setting was good, and our hitters were definitely putting it down really well."
"Gabi had that serving run in the beginning that gave us those points to get ahead, and then we took it from there," said Brewster, who set 90 of 90 with 20 assists.
Junior Teresa Curtis gave Grayslake Central an unexpected lift from the serving line. Normally the JV team's setter, she replaced a struggling Rams server and delivered an untouched ace to the back row to help finish off the Bulldogs.
"She's a got a great serve and we were like, 'Well, we got to make a switch here,' " Janczak said. "She got us that clutch ace at the end. That was pretty sweet. For a JV kid to come off the bench in probably one of the biggest stages she's ever seen and make those big plays like that, I'm really proud of her."
"She's got a wicked float serve," Brewster said of Curtis. "She's got one of the best serves on the team."
Marina Treto added 13 digs for Grayslake Central, which captured its second regional title in three years and third in five. Rams sophomore Taylor O'Neil chipped in 3 kills.
"Wauconda just worked their butts off," Janczak said. "Tallman and Susan Karhoff did a great job swinging and setting. They're great players."
Wauconda freshman libero Ashley Anderson rang up 21 digs. Her classmates Sara Sexton and LeAnne Sakowicz also made contributions.
"We put up a hard fight," Tallman said. "I'm definitely proud of our team. The fact that we put up such a hard fight, with such a young team, is great for the future of Wauconda. I'm definitely going to be watching. I'm so excited to see what these girls can turn into because we have three great freshmen on the team."