Volleyball, possibly more so than any sport, is a momentum game, especially when the teams facing each other are of fairly equal ability.
Thursday night on Rocket Hill in Burlington, Marian Central proved just how important momentum really is.
The Hurricanes, after winning a nip-and-tuck Game 1, let host Burlington Central grab the momentum and Game 2, but then came back and dominated Game 3 to deal the Rockets a 25-21, 18-25, 25-15 loss in the championship game of the Class 3A BC sectional.
Marian Central (23-16), which won its third sectional title in the last four years, will take on Chicago Walter Payton Prep at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Antioch supersectional, with the winner advancing to Redbird Arena in Normal next weekend for the IHSA Final Four. The Hurricanes finished second at state in 2011 and third in 2010. The Hurricanes lost to Richmond-Burton in the supersectional last year.
Burlington Central, which was seeking its first sectional title since 2008, finished the season 27-12.
"I just want to give my team a lot of respect," said Rockets' coach Marv Leavitt. "We're 5-9 and under and we played hard and competed all season. We played out best volleyball of the season tonight, we just got beat by a better team."
But not by much. And had the end of Game a not been taken over by Marian Central senior Hannah Davis, things may have turned out different in front of the large crowd.
With Game 1 tied 19-19, a BC hitting error gave Marian a 20-19 lead and the serve. The Hurricanes scored 5 of the game's final 7 points -- 3 on kills from Davis -- to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Rockets didn't wilt, though, and came back strong in Game 2 to send the match to a deciding third game. BC raced out to a 9-2 lead in Game 2 on the strength of a strong serving run by senior Lauren Wiltsie and 3 Marian errors.
Marian was able to close the gap and got to within 15-14 after a Rocket hitting error, but Central went on a 5-1 run to take a 20-15 lead and finished off the game on a powerful kill from senior Makenna Jensen.
Game 3, though, was all Marian. When Davis slammed home a kill on the game's second point, Hurricanes' coach Laura Watling knew her team was in good shape.
"I knew we could come back and they knew we could come back," said Watling of her team. "(The Rockets) were hungry and we were hungry. But when Hannah got that first kill right away I felt good. Burlington didn't make that many mistakes in that game, we just kept the pressure on."
Leavitt also saw the momentum swing.
"We worked so hard to get back into the match, I thought we lost some of our edge in the third game," he said. "We didn't respond. We tried but it was hard. We didn't have that bounce-back in the third game. But there's no quit in my team. I knew they'd fight all the way."
And the Rockets did just that. Trailing 24-12, Central fought off match point three times, including once when Jensen buried a backward kill. But the mountain was too high to climb.
"I knew (Marian) was a great team," Leavitt said. "Their record is so deceiving. They're the best 16-loss team I've ever seen."
Davis had 10 kills for the Hurricanes, while senior Frankie Taylor was all over the court, registering 13 kills and 21 digs with no errors.
"Hannah and Frankie have been so reliable for us all season, when the game was on the line we wanted to feed them," said Watling.
Senior Jenna Schudel had 9 kills to lead the Rockets. Jensen added 8 kills, Wiltisie had 4 kills and 14 digs and junior Jane Collins 3 kills. Junior setter Maddy Barry had 22 assists, junior Ally Detamble added 17 digs and senior libero Allie O'Reilly closed out her record-setting high school career with 16 digs.
"I've never made it past regionals and this year we won conference and regionals, so it's been like a dream come true," said the UIC-bound O'Reilly, who graduates as Central's all-time leader in digs. "I couldn't be more fortunate this year, with this team and this group of girls. It's been great."