Class 4A Huntley supersectional
The matchup: Lake Zurich (35-4) vs. Crystal Lake South (36-3)
When and where: 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Huntley High School
How they got here: Lake Zurich defeated Prospect 25-12, 25-12 and Barrington 25-22, 25-16 to win the Highland Park regional, then beat Glenbrook North 24-26, 25-17, 25-19 and Stevenson 25-23, 25-22 to win the Conant sectional. CL South defeated Cary-Grove 25-21, 25-20 and Crystal Lake Central 25-14, 25-23 to win the Dundee-Crown regional, then downed Rockford Boylan 25-22, 26-24 and Warren 25-14, 25-20 to win the Belvidere North sectional.
Outlook: It's on. What both teams' players, coaches and fans expected the day the IHSA released the postseason pairings is now here -- Bears vs. Gators for a trip to state. And it's a good thing they'll be wearing different colored uniforms, as these two powerhouses are mirror images of each other. They each possess strong hitters, stellar defense and excellent setters -- not to mention top-notch coaches.
"We came into the season with high expectations so we're not surprised to still be playing and we're not surprised to be playing Crystal Lake South," said LZ coach Matt Aiello, whose team lost in a regional final to Libertyville last year but bounced back this season to win the program's first sectional title since 2009 and fourth in program history.
"We both took care of business in the regular season and it's a fitting match to see who goes to ISU."
The Bears' attack starts with 6-foot-1 senior setter Kristen Walding, a Northeastern University recruit who has over 1,000 assists for the season and over 3,000 for her career.
"They obviously have a good setter who is also a good blocker in the front row and we'll have to deal with that," said CLS coach Jorie Fontana. "Lately we've noticed they've had some really good defensive matches so we'll have to bring that intensity."
The defensive standout for the North Suburban Conference champs is senior libero Ashley Dina, who ended the regular season with 902 digs and had 17 in the sectional final.
The Bears, who have never advanced out of a supersectional, don't lack for hitting stars either. Senior Mallory Parsons (5-11, Carthage College) has close to 300 kills and 300 digs, senior Kiley McPeek (5-10, Cornell) has close to 300 kills and over 350 digs, 6-foot senior Sydney Glover (Duquesne) has a powerful swing and is all over the court, and 5-10 Mackenzie Andrews has equal effectiveness blocking and hitting.
"I think we're going to be playing a good hitting team and they're pretty balanced," Fontana said. "We offer that, too. It's kind of like playing ourselves a little."
The Gators' attack is led by junior Carly Nolan (358 kills), senior Nicole Slimko (228 kills) and senior Avalon Nero (223 kills). Senior Hannah Wilson (254 digs) is the defensive leader of the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division champs and junior setter Cassy Sivesind has 821 assists.
"The challenge is that they're the next team on our quest," Aiello said. "They are a very talented team. I've been hearing all year Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake South. We're ready."
Each coach agrees momentum will be important, as will how the teams respond to the other's momentum.
"It's who has the mental edge," said Fontana, whose squad lost to Prairie Ridge in a regional final last year only to come back, like Lake Zurich, win a sectional title this year, the Gators' first since 2008 (they are seeking their first trip to state since 1996 and sixth overall).
"You want to come out with some energy and some spunk and set a precedent early. I'm not sure this will be a streaky game. It could be more back-and-forth. Which team doesn't get affected by the surroundings will be the key."
"It's how you respond to the other team's momentum and limiting the other eam's runs is how you win," Aiello said.
Aiello also points out that while the teams play a similar game, the players also know each other well.
"Our girls play for Sky High (club) and their girls play for Sky High," Aiello said. "They know each other well and there are a lot of friendships."
Friendships that are sure to be put aside for an hour or so on Saturday night.
Advancement: The Huntley supersectional winner advances to the IHSA Final Four to play the winner of the Normal supersectional at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal. Defending state champion Benet Academy and Normal Community play in the Normal supersectional Saturday.
Class 1A Westminster Christian supersectional
The matchup: Harvest Christian (28-11) vs. Keith Country Day (36-3)
When and where: 6 p.m. Saturday at Westminster Christian High School in Elgin.
How they got here: Harvest Christian defeated Faith Lutheran 25-7, 25-4 and Westminster Christian 25-11, 25-9 to win its own regional, then beat Newark 25-17, 24-9 and St. Francis de Sales 25-7, 25-8 to win the Harvest sectional. Keith defeated Pearl City 26-24, 25-12 and Freeport Aquin 25-21, 25-18 to win the Aquin regional then downed Erie 25-8, 22-25, 25-4 and Stockton 25-13, 25-14 to win the Pearl City sectional.
Outlook: Harvest Christian is in its third straight supersectional but would like to avoid that déjà vu feeling when its over. The Lions lost to Keith18-25, 25-19, 25-18 last year in the Elite Eight round at Lanark Eastland and Keith went on to win the Class 1A state title. Many of those same players are back for the Cougars, as they are for Harvest, so this promises to be another entertaining matchup.
Keith beat Harvest twice this season, the first time in 2 sets, but then it took 3 sets when the two played for the Northeast Athletic Conference tournament championship two weeks ago. Last year, Harvest won both regular-season matchups before losing in the supersectional.
If there's an X-factor this year it could be twofold: Keith has a state title to defend, and this year's game is in Elgin, which should bode well for Harvest to have a partisan crowd behind it. Two years ago the Lions had to travel to River Ridge for the supersectional.
Lions' coach Kim Floyd says all the pressure is on Keith.
"There's no pressure on us," she said. "They are the state champions. They're expected to win. We can just go in and play good volleyball."
The Cougars are led by junior outside Iman McGary (155 kills) and senior outside Adeja Lambert (51.1 kill percentage), junior libero Alex Nunez (123 digs) and senior setter Marisa Morgan. The Lions counter with senior standout Sydney Doby (408 kills, 100 aces, 350 digs), freshman phenom Mikayla Robinson (172 kills), senior Chloe Corbett (147 kills, 54 aces, 245 digs) and junior setter Jade Martinez (740 assists, 227 digs). Junior Shayna Manusos has 294 digs.
Doby admits there's some anxiety going into the match.
"I think we're a healthy bit of nervous about it," she said. "But we're really prepared for it mentally and physically."
Corbett says the Lions are happy to be in the Elite Eight again but not satisfied yet.
"It feels really great," she said. "We were all really ecstatic about it but right now our eyes are just on supersectionals and trying to be mentally focused for that.
"We've been training really hard this year. We all feel that if we work together as a team we can do it."
Floyd believes her team, which played a beefed up schedule this season, is more prepared this time around.
"We definitely have more ammunition against them," she said. "The hitters have another year behind their belt as far as leadership, as far as not being rattled. as far as just being able to play."
Advancement: The Westminster Christian supersectional winner plays the Mt. Pulaski supersectional winner at 9 a.m. next Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal in the state semifinals. West Prairie and Danville Schlarman play in the Pulaski super.
Brian Schaumburg contributed to this report