WOODSTOCK – Marian Central's girls volleyball team has been searching for a win against St. Francis, consistently one of the state's best teams, since defeating the Spartans in 2010.
The Hurricanes were primed for the upset Wednesday in the teams' second meeting of the season. After falling short in Game 1, having failed to hold onto an early lead, Marian rallied in Game 2.
Using a 7-1 run, Marian took a 21-18 lead. But the Spartans quickly erased the lead, taking advantage of the Hurricanes' unforced errors en route to a 28-26 Game 2 win to secure the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division victory, 2-0.
Marian lost to St. Francis on the road in September, 25-13, 25-15.
"We know we've gotten better since the first time we played them, but this was the big test of could we do it on our home court?" Marian coach Laura Watling said. "I think they put pressure on themselves."
The Hurricanes (13-10, 5-5 SCC Blue) grabbed momentum in Game 1 by claiming a 12-7 lead, paced by senior outside hitter Frankie Taylor, who finished with eight kills. The Spartans (30-3), though, took advantage of their blocking – they recorded five points off blocks – to recover and put away the Hurricanes with a 25-19 win in Game 1.
Marian easily could have been discouraged, but the Hurricanes managed to rebound despite quickly falling behind 10-3 in Game 2. Senior middle blocker Hannah Davis (match-high nine kills) was nearly unstoppable on slide sets.
Her difficult shots, combined with sophomore middle blocker Rachel Giustino's presence at the net, fueled Marian to the 21-18 lead. At one point, the Hurricanes posted four consecutive blocks during their 7-1 run.
"Line shots have worked a lot for us, and that's what we were trying to pick on," Davis said. "My favorite set is the slide."
Too many mistakes would prove to be Marian's downfall in Game 2, particularly at the service line where the Hurricanes committed six service errors.
"I love that we were trying to serve aggressively, but there's also aggressive and smart," Watling said. " ... That is really frustrating. But the good news is aside from that we were right there with them."
A kill by Spartans sophomore Molly Haggerty ended Taylor's run of six straight serves, and two ensuing blocks tied the game at 21. After exchanging points and tied at 25 following a Marian service error, St. Francis gave Marian its second chance to put away the game with a hitting error. But another miscue from the Hurricanes, this time a hitting error, again tied the game. St. Francis didn't waste the opportunity and finished off Marian with two straight kills.
"I think we passed well, played better defense," said St. Francis coach Peg Kopec of her team's Game 2 rally. "I think we acted a little lackluster. We just didn't have a lot of fire."