SANDWICH – The longest rally of the match, featuring countless diving digs off crushing kill attempts, ended in a touch hit that finally found the court.
Sycamore’s Emily Young took a saved pass and finessed it over the net, finding an empty space on the left side to give Sycamore a one-point lead. A Rock Falls hitting error on the next point would hand Sycamore the first game, and the Spartans would do just enough to win Game 2 for a 30-28, 25-21 victory over Rock Falls on Tuesday in the Class 3A Sandwich Regional semifinals.
The Spartans advanced to play Kaneland in the regional finals at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“We pulled it together really well,” Sycamore senior Gabrielle Wenger said. “Normally we fall apart in crucial points. We have in the past during the season, but we really pushed it this game and we really wanted to see ourselves in the championship with Kaneland again.”
Sycamore started strong in game one as setter Kendra Larson found junior Mattie Hayes for four kills in the first 11 points. But Rock Falls (20-14) went on a 10-2 run to pull ahead in the middle of the first game.
The Spartans answered with five of the next six points, and the two teams battled to 28-28 when Young’s tip gave the Spartans their fifth game point.
“To stick it out at the end and go neck-and-neck, 30-28, that shows me the character that I wanted to see all year,” Sycamore coach Eric Nore said. “It’s been developing, but you never know if it’s going to come out, and it came out tonight.”
The second game saw both teams play even to 20-20, but Sycamore (15-17) won five of the last six points, including two kills from Hayes to finish it off in two games.
Kaneland sweeps: With Kaneland trailing by eight points in Game 2 against Plano, Kaneland coach Kerri McCastland called a timeout and was very unhappy, according to her team.
What was missing after the Knights cruised to a win in game one? The answer from everybody on the Knights was “motivation.”
After the timeout, Kaneland played like a more experienced team rather than a roster that features only one senior. The Knights rallied back from the eight-point deficit, winning 13 of the final 17 points to complete a 25-19, 25-23 victory over Plano.
The apparent motivational issues that appeared in Game 2, were basically nonexistent to start the match.
After Plano pulled to within one point, 15-14, the Knights won six consecutive points, capped off by back-to-back kills from Ellie Dunn and an ace from McKenzie McMullan. Dunn recorded 11 kills in Game 1 and was a force from every spot on the front row.
Kaneland jumped out to a 5-2 lead in Game 2, but Plano’s aggressiveness got the Knights out of serve-receive, and the Reapers reeled off nine consecutive points before two kills from Vanessa Gould stopped the streak.
Gould would provide the offensive spark down the stretch as the Kaneland sophomore put down four kills in the final six points and recorded a tremendous dig that eventually resulted in a Plano hitting error on the other side of the net.
“I think it was good we didn’t give up after we struggled,” senior Jenny Lubic said. “We didn’t stop fighting and didn’t stop believing.”