Girls volleyball: Crystal Lake South has plenty to celebrate
Crystal Lake South's volleyball team celebrated its coach's 300th career win before Tuesday's match against Crystal Lake Central and did some more celebrating after.
The Gators earned a quick two-set win over the Tigers, 25-17, 25-9, to claim at least a share of the Fox Valley Conference title with three matches left. South (22-3, 14-1) can win the conference title outright Thursday when it plays at McHenry.
Huntley still is mathematically alive in the race but needs to win out and have South drop its final three FVC matches. The Gators and Red Raiders (18-9, 11-4) face each other Oct. 22 to end the conference schedule.
The conference title is the first for South since it captured back-to-back FVC Valley titles in 2013 and 2014. This is the first FVC championship for the program since the Valley and Fox divisions were combined in 2016.
"We were so hungry and we just wanted it so bad," said sophomore outside hitter Gabby Wire, who led the Gators with six kills and three aces. "This is my second year playing CLS volleyball, and I've already had so many amazing times here.
"I've was thrilled to get this one, it really shows all of the progress we've made throughout the season."
The Gators started to show their potential at the end of the COVID-19-shortened spring season, when South made a run to the FVC Tournament championship and lost to Central, which went undefeated in FVC play.
The Gators returned all but one starter from the spring and have become an even stronger group. South started the season with 14 consecutive wins and dropped its first conference match against Cary-Grove on Sept. 28.
"I love it in the sense that it validates all of the hard work that they've put in," said coach Jorie Fontana, who earned her 300th career win over the weekend and has been part of five FVC champions at South.
"It's a tough season for everyone. We're dealing with so many variables all the time. The fact that they've been able to come out on the other end and get to this point is really huge. It's a little bit of that carrot at the end of the stick."
Leading 18-15 against its crosstown rivals, South finished the first set on a 7-2 run and took quick control in the second with a 5-1 lead. After the Tigers cut the deficit to 6-5, the Gators scored nine of the next 10 points for a 15-6 lead.
"South just served us off the court," Tigers coach Amy Johnson said. "Looking at the stats, we didn't really get a chance to play on offense. Credit to their servers and credit to their offense because they were making it really hard on us. They came out on the big stage and played very well, and we didn't."
Paige Keller led Central with seven assists and five digs, and McKenna Timmerman posted three kills and one ace. Central was playing without starting setter Lauren Klutke, who suffered a torn ACL against Cary-Grove on Sept. 30.
"That's devastated us," Johnson said. "It's taken a big piece of experience off the court, as well as our second-biggest offensive producer. She probably has one of our higher volleyball IQs, as well. We've kind of spiraled since we lost her, and we're trying to figure out what lineup gives us the best shot out there."
Jessie Proszenyak tied Wire with a match-high six kills for the Gators, adding four blocks and two aces. Megan Langdon and Morgan Jones had three blocks and three kills apiece, Faith Gruenwald had seven assists and five digs, Kaitlyn Brandt had four aces, and Alyssa Zagroba had five digs.
Gruenwald, a senior, has stepped in at setter for normal starter Emma Stowasser, who suffered a knee injury earlier this season. Stowasser warmed up with the Gators Tuesday and will practice Wednesday.
"She's been amazing," Fontana said of Gruenwald. "I told her, she's kind of getting four years of coaching in two months. She stepped in with energy and maturity and she's had the ability to jell with the girls right away."
Gruenwald said it's been an easy transition.
"Everyone welcomed me right away and it's been great," Gruenwald said. "We've really come together as a group and worked hard."