CRYSTAL LAKE – All night, Crystal Lake South setter Cassy Sivesind could see where her Gators teammates needed to place the ball on Crystal Lake Central’s side of the net.
The holes, albeit small, were there, but the Gators weren’t seeing them. Central’s block was that stout.
Tight defenses and dynamic offenses morphed the Fox Valley Conference crossover between the crosstown rivals Thursday into a chess match. If South were to pull out the victory, Sivesind knew the Gators had to be more strategic and rely less on sheer power hitting.
Reach high, Sivesind told them. Go around the block. Facing match point, South middle hitter Nicole Slimko did.
Slimko’s shot skidded first off the tip of an outstretched fist before another Crystal Lake Central player awkwardly shanked it into the stands. The thinking was over. South nixed a late Central rally to beat the Tiger,s 25-23, 25-21, and secure an unofficial FVC title. South won the FVC Valley Division, and Central won the FVC Fox, both with 12-0 records.
“I just told them if they could look at [the block], they could get around it,” Sivesind said. “(Central middle hitter) Lauren Leverenz, she is definitely a great blocker, so I was telling them to tip, roll, cut shots, anything.
“It was a lot of strategy. They’re a very, very good team. You had to really think before you did anything.”
South (32-3) moved away from swinging aggressively just for the sake of doing so, which helped minimize its errors in the second game. South’s cross-court shots, coupled with aggressive serving, kept Central out of system, and Gators outside hitter Sara Mickow emerged as a threat the Tigers couldn’t stop.
Mickow pounded four of her six kills in the second game, including a blast that put the Gators ahead 21-19 and forced Central to burn its final timeout. A South hitting error gave the Tigers (31-4) sideout, but Mickow answered with another strike.
Mickow had noticed the need for adjustments.
“I feel like we went away from swinging as hard as we could and played for our shots and our places on the court,” she said. “We were still playing aggressive, but we hit our shots and I think that’s what pulled us out on top.”
Central, which honored its 11 seniors at the start of their final home match, rallied late in Game 1 to cut South’s lead to one, 24-23, on back-to-back kills from right side Maddy Cysewski. But South outside Carly Nolan terminated for game point.
The Gators rolled to an 11-6 lead to start the second game. Central tied the score at 19 on a kill from Kassi Dvoracek but couldn’t grab the lead.
“We needed to play our own game and not worry about them, but we didn’t exactly do that,” Leverenz said. “We didn’t play our best game, and they played awesome.”