On Halloween eve, Frankie frightened.
And a Grayslake Central team with a friendly Casper couldn't scare back.
"I think they just outplayed us," junior outside hitter Gabi Casper said after she and her Grayslake Central volleyball teammates lost 25-17, 25-9 to Marian Central, which got several monster hits by Tara Blake (10 kills) and Frankie Taylor (9 kills) in a Class 3A sectional semifinal at Marian Central in Woodstock on Tuesday night.
"We didn't come out with as much energy as we did against Wauconda (in the regional final)."
Marian Central's 18-20 record doesn't reflect the caliber of volleyball the Hurricanes are playing heading into Thursday's 7 p.m. sectional final against Richmond-Burton (34-4), which was a 25-7, 25-18 winner over Kaneland in Tuesday's first semifinal.
"I don't think a lot of people are expecting us to look like this right now," Marian Central coach Laura Watling said. "We had a very, very slow start to the year. We had a very dismal September. But we have a totally different lineup, and we've have changed things around since then. In October, we've really been getting back to our game."
The Hurricanes pounded 25 kills and served 10 aces against Grayslake Central (24-14). The Hurricanes even played without starting middle Meredith Patterson, who suffered a slightly sprained ankle in practice Monday.
"Our serve-receive was off tonight," Rams coach Jason Janczak said. "They're a good team, and they serve really tough. We got out of system a little bit. We gave them some easy balls, and they made us pay for it."
Marian Central has finally settled on a 6-2 offense with setters Bethany Bucci and freshman Alex Kaufmann, who's been on the varsity only since the start of the state tournament. The Hurricanes went into the season trying to replace three-year starting setter Abby Gilleland, who as a senior last year helped lead her team to a runner-up finish downstate.
With their hitters and setters in sync, the Hurricanes had the Rams on their heels from the start of the match, extending their lead to 6-2 on an ace by Shannon Wuensch. Grayslake Central pulled even at 8-8, but Marian Central built a 19-10 advantage on back-to-back aces by Blake. An ace by lefty libero Caitlin Brocker ended the opening set.
Blake started the second set with consecutive kills, and Grayslake Central never recovered, falling behind 11-2. A kill by sophomore Taylor O'Neil staved off defeat for the Rams before a kill by Wuensch ended it.
"I was really, really excited," Watling said of her girls' performance, which included several screaming Blake and Taylor kills that ricocheted off Rams.
Casper and Alex Dahlstrom had 4 and 3 kills, respectively, for Grayslake Central. Meghan Brewster served 3 aces and dished out 10 assists.
"We really never got going," Janczak said. "The train never got on the track."
Grayslake Central graduates only three seniors in starting libero Marina Treto, Anna Strickland and Maddy Smith. The returning nucleus should include juniors Casper, Dahlstrom, Brewster, Lexi Beckman and Hannah Thomas, the sophomore O'Neil and freshman Allie Daul.
"I talked to some girls and we decided that we're going to (do better) next year," Casper said. "We're going to train harder and work on the things that we know we have to work on."
"It was a tough loss tonight, but I'm comforted by the fact that we start mostly juniors," Janczak said. "We got a bright future ahead of us. We just know now that we can't pass like that and expect to keep up with a good team like Marian."