Burlington Central holds off Genoa for outright conference crown

Burlington Central has the Big Northern East championship all to itself, but not without a serious fight from Genoa-Kingston.

Playing on their senior night with the pep band rocking and a lively atmosphere that felt like a postseason match, the Cogs pushed the Rockets to three sets before Burlington Central made just enough plays down the stretch for a 25-20, 22-25, 27-25 victory.

Burlington Central (30-5, 14-0) denied Genoa-Kingston (21-6, 12-2) a chance to share the conference crown.

"We're not a big head case team," Rockets setter Lexi DeWaard said. "If we make a mistake we shake it off right away and get the next point back. We went all out for every point."

It's a good thing the Rockets have that mindset because they had to overcome 18 missed serves - 9 of them in the second set loss.

"We've definitely been in situations where we're missing our serves the way we did in set two," Rockets co-coach Meghan Blahnik said. "We had to battle back from that again."

All three sets were tight throughout with a total of 27 ties and 15 lead changes.

Burlington Central broke the final tie at 12 in the opening set on a Cogs service error. DeWaard set Leah Murphy for a kill on the next point, and the Rockets stayed in control from there. Megan Lomas put away a bad pass from the Cogs for a 24-18 lead, and the Rockets closed the set on another Cogs missed serve.

It was the Rockets' turn to struggle at the line in the second set, and Burlington Central also made 5 attack errors which enabled the Cogs to win the set with only 5 kills of their own.

The third set was the tightest of all with 11 ties and 9 lead changes. Burlington Central surged ahead from a 14-14 tie with a run started on libero Rachel Gaydos' ace. The Rockets were still in command at 21-17 when Lexi VanHiel slammed a ball down.

But the Cogs didn't go quietly, tying the match at 22, 23, 24 and 25. A missed Cogs serve gave the Rockets a 26-25 lead, then VanHiel took a set from DeWaard in the middle for a kill, giving the Rockets the win on their third match point.

"Back and forth, both teams found ways to keep competing," Rockets coach Marv Leavitt said. "It was going to be one play at the end that would be the difference. Eighteen missed serves in a match and you still win. That's not bad. It was just a battle tonight."

VanHiel led Burlington Central with 4 block kills, 10 spike kills and 3 aces. DeWaard set 26 assists, with Murphy (13 digs, 7 kills, 4 aces) and Megan Lomas (7 kills) joining VanHiel as her favorite targets. Gaydos finished with 20 digs.

The teams could meet again in sectional play.

"When we get to play Burlington Central we always get a solid opponent," Cogs coach Keith Foster said. "We get ourselves a playoff-like atmosphere and it makes both teams better. We're always fortunate to have an opponent that strong."

Thursday's victory gave Leavitt 703 in his career. Number 700 came Saturday against Tinley Park at the Lincoln-Way Central Tournament.

The team celebrated with a cake and honored Leavitt again Tuesday.

"It's just a number right now," Leavitt said. "Later on when my career is over I'll look at that as something I'm very, very proud of. Right now I'm just focused and Meghan is focused on getting the girls ready for regionals.

"We're extremely proud of this group - 30 wins after graduating 8 seniors."

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