If Prairie Ridge had learned anything from its three previous meetings against Crystal Lake South, the Wolves knew the right energy in a highly-anticipated third and final game would go a long way in winning the Class 4A regional girls volleyball championship Thursday night.
"The previous times we played them we've actually come out really badly and we practiced coming out strong and focused on our energy, " Wolves setter Mackenzie Humm said. "So tonight that's what we really wanted to pursue, just come out with so much energy it was unquestionable."
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And while the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division co-champs matched identical 27-9 records (PR won 2 of the 3 previous meetings this season), you couldn't question the Wolves' energy this time around.
After jumping out to a 5-1 lead and surviving a South comeback at 18-17, a 7-1 run by the Wolves concluded matters in their Class 4A CL South regional championship win over the host Gators, 25-16, 17-25, 25-18, It's the Wolves first postseason plaque since beating Antioch in the 2009 Class 3A regional final.
"That was a big win," Wolves coach Stefanie Otto said. "I love winning. Love, love, love! And I love this group. They have such passion for the game, it's fun to be around them."
Led by Caitlin Brauneis' 12 kills, 17 digs by Paige Dacanay, 15 from Taylor Otto and 20 assists from Humm, who also had 4 kills, Prairie Ridge (28-9) advanced to the Jacobs sectional on Tuesday to take on Warren (20-17) in a semifinal at 6 p.m.
The Wolves needed 6 games to get past District 155 rivals No. 4 seed Cary-Grove and South, which was no surprise in by far a tough road to Jacobs.
"It was the hardest regional around so if we could get past this point we could go anywhere, we just need to keep on working on the little things and I think we're going to go really far," Humm said. 'This is our year to go far."
With the Wolves taking Game 1 and South taking Game 2, the final game set up to be special but PR had to recover from serving and blocking issues in the previous games.
"We kept talking about where we wanted them to set it. They started to do a little better job of what we were asking them to," Otto said. "Their serving was real aggressive and gave us a lot of problems."
The Wolves grabbed a quick 5-1 lead in the final game with kills from outside hitter Kennedy McNeil (6 kills) and stops from mid-blocker Maddie Drain, but watched that lead evaporate after South rallied and setter Avalon Nero's ace gave the Gators a 6-5 lead,
That was the final time South (28-10) led. PR put together a 6-2 run fueled by a few unforced errors by South, a block from Drain and a tip by Humm to make it 12-8.
PR later grabbed a 17-11 advantage, led by 3 kills from Humm but 2 straight kills by Nicole Slimko and a PR error had South serving down 17-14. McNeil's kill made it 18-14, but Slimko (9 kills, 5 blocks) answered back with one of her own plus a block and an ace to make 18-17.
Then PR flat-out took over.
"We ran our middles and right sides a lot more because they were stacking on the outsides so we once we got them running we had our outsides single block and that helped our offense a ton." Humm said.
Brauneis took advantage of that multiple times and a key block by Ali Witt on Nicole Jurkash's strike made it 23-18. Witt would tap over the game-winner.
"It was a perfect win for everybody, everyone played awesome, it was a great team effort tonight. It feels amazing. We all came out on fire, energy was amazing it was hard not to play well with our team energy," said Brauneis, who played on a sprained ankle.
South had plenty of unforced errors, and while their backs were against the wall after Game 1, the Gators pulled away in Game 2 after a PR dig and serve went out and wide for a 15-14 lead. Carly Nolan's kill was returned into the rafters and Nero's ace and a Slimko block made it 21-14. Nolan had 6 kills in the match.
Though South never capitalized and those errors were the story as a lot of balls kept hitting the net.
"They turned it around to the match we wanted it to be, but it was too many unforced errors," Gators coach Jorie Fontana said. "The momentum for us, the rhythm for us, it kind of always seemed were trying to catch up."
Cassy Sivesind had 22 assists for South. Katie Meyers had 13 digs and Nero had 4 aces.