WOODSTOCK – Even before the Marian Central volleyball team got off the bus Tuesday night, the Hurricanes stood in a circle and sang "Beautiful Soul" by Jesse McCartney at the top of their lungs.
The bonding moment wouldn't be their last.
The second-seeded Hurricanes knew, if they were to advance to Thursday night's Class 3A regional championship, it would require a collective effort. And after being overwhelmed by Richmond-Burton in the opening game of its semifinal match, coming together became even more vital.
Marian Central bounced back with back-to-back wins, 25-23 and 25-16, to move on to face No. 1-seeded Johnsburg, which swept Woodstock in Tuesday night's other semifinal match. But moving on certainly wasn't easy.
"We said in the huddle (after Game 1), 'Talent's not going to win the game. It's all going to be heart," Marian Central senior outside hitter Frankie Taylor said. "Every point, we had to have heart and we won it. Not by talent, but by having the amount of heart to win."
The Hurricanes (20-16) shook off a 25-10 loss in the semifinal opener as Ali Frantti paced R-B, hoping to extend her high school career beyond Tuesday. The two teams have reached the state finals three straight years. The Rockets finished runner-up last season while Marian Central was second in 2011 and third in 2010.
Nerves rattled Marian Central early, prompting Hurricanes coach to tell her team to put the loss behind them and stick together. But the Rockets (23-14) couldn't pull away in the second game before the Hurricanes outlasted R-B, closing out the win with a Alex Kaufmann ace.
"We knew Marian was going to bounce back," said Frantti, who finished with 23 kills, four blocks, 16 digs and four aces. "We knew we had to bring it more. But we just didn't seize it."
The Hurricanes, led by Taylor's 11 kills and Bethany Bucci's 16 digs and four aces, jumped out to an early 8-2 lead in the decisive game before R-B made a big push. But after the Rockets tied the game at 11, Marian Central scored nine of the next 10 points and closed out the match with three straight aces by freshman Sydney Nemtuda.
"One individual was not going to win – we were all going to win together," Bucci said. "That's what really got us through."