Top-seeded Crystal Lake Central never panicked trailing 15-10 in the first set and 23-20 in the second against unheralded Batavia in the championship match of the Jacobs invitational Saturday in Algonquin.
“We didn't underestimate them coming in,” said Crystal Lake Central’s 6-foot setter Megan Kelly, who had 9 assists, 8 kills and 3 blocks in the title match. “When we were down in the first, and again in the second set, we were never scared. We were never too nervous.”
Maybe Kelly’s courage was buoyed by the presence of hitters like her twin sister Emily, who contributed 5 kills and 3 blocks, and 6-foot sophomore outside hitter Madde Blake, who added 7 kills and 3 blocks.
But it was Megan Kelly who put the exclamation point on the championship with a rocket putaway of an overpass at 25-24.
“That’s my favorite ball,” Kelly said. “They're the most fun.”
The win was the eighth in a row for Crystal Lake Central (8-1), which lost its opener to Fox Valley Conference rival Huntley.
“We only had a week of practice before that game,” Megan Kelly said. “Since then, we've been able to come together as a team more. The first match (against Huntley) we were nervous because of last year. But we just really like playing together. We have a lot of fun.”
And what about playing with your twin?
“I’ve been playing with her my whole life,” Megan Kelly said. “Sometimes we’re out there yelling at each other. But I’m the setter and she’s a hitter and we always know where we need the ball to be. We just know each other.”
Nobody knew what to expect from Batavia (8-4), a latecomer to the field after Hersey dropped out. But the Bulldogs made their presence felt by dispatching Jacobs, Marian Central Catholic and Rockford Boylan in pool play and Waukesha Catholic Memorial in the semifinals.
“This shows us that we have a lot of potential,” said 5-foot-6 junior outside hitter Sam Juarez. “We only have four returners from last year, so we have a brand-new team. It just goes to show so early in the season how well we’re doing.”
Juarez led Batavia in the championship match with 9 kills and 8 digs and added an ace that gave the Bulldogs a 22-19 lead in the second set.
“We’re not particularly big,” Juarez said. “A lot of teams underestimate us because of that. But we’re really smart. We put the ball in the right places. And we are scrappy. We pick up a lot on defense. That really helps us in the long run.”
Ultimately, however, Batavia was done in by Crystal Lake Central’s refusal to lose its cool when the Tigers fell behind in each set.
“I really liked our composure today,” Crystal Lake Central coach Lisa Brunstrum said. “When we were down 5 or 6 points in the first set, I took and timeout and we talked about some changes we needed to make. Our setters really took those changes to heart.
“They ran some different plays to get the momentum going on our side and we were able to push ahead from there. And Blake and Kendall Lownds in the back row really stepped up big time to make sure they were doing everything they could to help the setters out.”
Batavia also got 18 assists and 2 aces from all-tournament selection Jenna Garrett and 8 digs from freshman Cordelia Smith. Olivia Doak added 14 assists and Camryn Huster had 5 kills for Crystal Lake Central.
Marian Central Catholic (5-3), playing without leading hitter Issy Nick who was attending her brother’s wedding, defeated Waukesha Catholic Memorial 19-25, 31-29, 25-18 to finish third.
“We don’t have any experience of playing with each other so we’re still trying to figure each other out on the court,” Marian Central coach Patty Brummond said. “I’m super proud that we had such a great tournament and was very happy to be in this bracket.”
Five-foot-8 outside hitter Mae Novakoski stepped up to fill nick’s shows, Brummond said.
“She had an amazing day,” the coach said. “It was great to see her and our setter, Kate Messino, our two veterans, bring everybody together. They showed their leadership out there today.”