The Warren girls volleyball team drilled in practice for the various cross-court shots they expected Prairie Ridge hitters to launch at them, but preparation didn't translate to execution for the Blue Devils in a Class 4A Jacobs sectional semifinal Tuesday.
Led by 10 kills from junior Kennedy McNeil, senior Caitlin Brauneis' 5 kills and 10 digs, and junior Taylor Otto's 5 aces, Fox Valley Conference Valley Division co-champion Prairie Ridge (29-9) ousted underdog Warren (20-18) with little trouble, 25-17, 25-18.
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"Last week was really, really stressful and intense," Brauneis said, referring to the Crystal Lake South regional. "It was nice to relax and play our game and have a game that went completely our way."
The Blue Devils kept pace with the Wolves early in each game until Prairie Ridge found ways to make big runs to gain separation. A 7-2 surge fueled by 2 kills and a block by McNeil gave the Wolves a 13-8 lead in Game 1. A 7-0 run that featured 3 straight Otto aces staked the Wolves to a 13-6 lead in Game 2.
"They were a great team," said Warren junior setter Rachel Ziegler, who finished with 9 assists. "They have a lot of consistency, great sets and great hits. But (this season) was so amazing. It was so much better than we ever expected. We just played our hearts out."
The victory advances the Wolves to Thursday's sectional title match against Rockford Boylan (32-2), which defeated DeKalb 25-23, 25-22 in the second semifinal in Algonquin Tuesday. It marks the first appearance for Prairie Ridge in a sectional title match since 2007, when the Wolves defeated Hononegah to reach the Elite Eight.
"They just want to play to win," Prairie Ridge coach Stefanie Otto said of the 2012 Wolves. "They've been talking about this for a long time. Some of these girls have been on my team for three or four years as freshmen and sophomores and they really want to experience it. They had older sisters who played on state teams. I think they would like to experience that, too. One game at a time."
The Warren defense was simply overmatched against the multipronged Prairie Ridge attack. The serve receive broke down too often, and it didn't help that the Blue Devils made 7 service errors.
Nevertheless, Warren never surrendered. Trailing 24-13 in the second game, the Blue Devils scored 5 straight points to force Prairie Ridge to call timeout. It was the best Warren push of the night -- led by a kill from sophomore Stephanie Karlovicks, a pair of block kills from senior Kendall Farmer and an ace by junior libero Lisiann Rodriguez -- but it came too late.
"We knew they were going to hit us cross court and they did, but it was nice to see our kids didn't give up," Warren coach Julie Filippo said. "They fought to the end and did what they were supposed to do. It was nice to see Kendall Farmer come on strong at the end with a couple of big blocks. We got in there with the blocks but we just didn't connect until the end. If we had done that sooner, it might have been a closer ballgame."
Senior Jaime Dickinson led Warren with 8 kills on 13-of-14 hitting, and senior Paige Jespersen finished with 11 digs.
"I really think we could have played better but, all in all, this was better than years past," Dickinson said of a season highlighted by the program's first regional title since 2005. "It was all I could ask for my senior year."