With the Kishwaukee River Conference championship on the line Thursday night in Johnsburg, Burlington Central suffered through an awful second set when the Rockets couldn't return a serve or put a ball away in an ugly 25-14 loss that sent the match to a deciding third set.
Good thing for Burlington Central that it had Johnsburg right where it wanted.
All season it seems the Rockets know how to pull out a match in 3 sets, and they did it again to the Skyhawks winning 25-23, 14-25, 25-13 to win the conference crown.
"We always win in three usually," said senior outside Madison Leone, who led both teams with 13 kills. "We were all disappointed with the second set. We had no energy and weren't talking. We had to change that around.
"I'm really proud of us. Our goal was to win conference and we did that. We really worked as a team."
Burlington Central (21-14, 11-1), whose only KRC loss came last week to defending champion Richmond-Burton, swept the season series from Johnsburg (23-7, 10-2) that ended up being the difference in the race.
"We set goals at the beginning of the year and winning conference was the tops of the list," Burlington Central coach Meghan Blahnik said. "We felt last year we lost some games we shouldn't have."
Trailing 21-18 in the first set, the Rockets closed on a 7-2 run. Kat Schmidt stuffed back-to-back balls at the net to put the Rockets up 23-22 and 24-22.
Johnsburg saved one set point before Maddie Lenschow (6 kills, 8 digs, 3 aces) gave Burlington the set with a back row kill.
After 8 ties and 5 lead changes in the first set, there were 12 more in the second set. But they all came early; from the time the Rockets led 9-8, the Skyhawks ended the second set on a 17-5 run.
Johnsburg served 6 aces in the set as the Rockets' passing struggled.
"Our serve-receive broke down, we couldn't find the court as far as our offense was concerned, making a lot of unforced errors," Blahnik said. "We also didn't serve aggressive."
The Skyhawks cut their attack errors from 7 in the opening set to 3 in the second while getting strong hitting from Abigail Wemple and Alexandra Arber.
They appeared to have momentum on their side with a big home crowd cheering them on, but the Rockets quickly flashed their third-set magic taking a 5-1 lead on kills from Leone, Sammy Uribe, another from Leone and a Gabriela Soto ace.
"It's rare that we've won in 2 and not because we couldn't win in 2 but we lose our minds for a little bit and get complacent and then we get un-confident," Blahnik said. "Having that third game we reset and did what we should have done that second game."
Johnsburg took a brief 6-5 lead with 5 straight points before the Rockets surged again. Their 7-0 run included an ace from Leone, a tip kill by Leone and Brittany Parks tooling a shot off the Skyhawks block for a 12-6 lead.
Johnsburg got as close as 16-13 before Katie Lomas stepped to the service line. The junior libero proceeded to serve the final 9 points of the match, a run that included 2 aces and ended with one last kill from Leone.
"I have a very good serving team," Blahnik said. "They really take their time and focus on it. When we serve well we usually play well. When we don't serve well it usually sets a bad tone for us."
Parks added 11 assists, 3 blocks and 10 digs, Soto set 13 assists and had 9 digs, Lomas finished with 7 digs, and Schmidt had 3 kills and 3 blocks.
Wemple led the Skyhawks with 8 kills.
"They just got tight," Johnsburg coach Jackie Barnette said. "They have a tendency to put too much pressure on themselves to execute. They wanted it so much, they just fell apart."