NORMAL -- It wasn't the way Crystal Lake South's girls volleyball team wanted the season to end, but the Gators are hoping their trip to the Class 4A state tournament is the start of something that becomes as frequent as it did for the program back in the mid 1990s.
After battling to a win in the first set, CL South fell victim to a taller and more aggressive New Trier team in the second and third sets and fell to the Trevians 22-25, 25-17, 25-23 Saturday night in the third-place match at Redbird Arena. The fourth-place trophy is CL South's fifth in girls volleyball and first since Pete Kottra's 1995 team lost to Mother McAuley in the state title match.
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"I've always heard about Crystal Lake South and their tradition in volleyball and I'm really proud to be part of a team that gets to add to it and be part of the legacy," said Gators' coach Jorie Fontana, who was a fledgling freshman at Jacobs the last time the Gators made a trip to state in 1996.
After falling in two sets to Benet in Friday's semifinals, South came out with a renewed sense of purpose in Saturday's match. The Gators (37-5) never trailed in the first set, racing out to an 11-3 lead and then holding off a late charge from New Trier (31-4) to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
New Trier fought back to get within 21-20 on a Gator attack error but a block from junior Carly Nolan and senior Katy Hoenle gave CL South the serve back with a 22-20 lead. With Nolan serving, the Trevians made two errors of their own to put South at game point but a kill by the Trevians' Sarah Shafiq and a South error held off game point. After Fontana called timeout, senior Avalon Nero put down a kill to win the game for the Gators.
The second and third sets, though, belonged to the Trevians, who finished second to Benet here last year.
New Trier never trailed in the second set, using its height advantage to the fullest. The Trevians led by as many as 8 points at 20-12 and the closest the Gators could get after that was 22-16 after a kill from Sara Mickow. New Trier closed out the game with a vicious kill from 6-foot Taylor Tashima.
"We knew the middles would be a challenge," said Fontana. "We knew we'd have to up our defense to create an even playing field."
The Gators weren't able to do that in the third set, although they did battle. In fact, there were 12 ties and six lead changes in the third set and New Trier didn't take the lead for good until a Shafiq kill made it 24-23. A South attack error ended the match.
"That was a fun game," said New Trier coach Hannah Hsieh. "It was a hard-fought back-and-forth battle. Give Crystal Lake South credit. They really turned their game around from (Friday)."
Shafiq led the Trevians with 15 kills and Tashima had 11 as New Trier outhit the Gators .289-. 192. Tashima and Emily Frieder each had 12 digs.
Nolan paced the South offense with 12 kills. Nero had 7 kills and 7 digs, senior Nicole Slimko had 5 kills, junior Tori Falbo 10 digs, junior Cassy Sivesind 26 assists and 7 digs and senior Hannah Wilson 5 digs.
The Gators graduate only five seniors but Nolan and Fontana know replacing them won't be easy.
"These seniors left a name for us," Nolan said. "There are some big big shoes to fill."
Most notably that will be in the front line with Nero and Slimko graduating.
"This has really been an incredible feeling," Nero said. "Nicole and I have been playing together since seventh grade. This was a great game to go out on. I didn't leave any regrets on the court."
"It's been an amazing experience," said Slimko. "Being here with everyone on this team and sharing this with my best friends has been amazing. We came out fighting tonight. We knew we had to put it all out there and we did."
"It's going to be hard to find another Avalon, Nicole ... any of them," Fontana said. "But the important thing that came out of this season is that it's possible."