BURLINGTON – The Kaneland girls volleyball team carved out big leads in three straight games against Burlington Central but only was able to hang on to one of them, as the Rockets sent the Knights home shaking their heads about the ones that got away.
Central rallied from eight-point deficits in both the first and third games Tuesday in the Rockets’ 25-22, 13-25, 26-24 thriller in the meeting of the nonconference rivals.
Veteran Rockets coach Marv Leavitt has seen his share of odd matches, enough to understand momentum in high school volleyball is no joke.
“I know this game is a game of momentum and it’s a game of runs so I know you can come back from that,” Leavitt said. “You just try to focus your girls on the next point and just not try to catch up in one play the seven points that you’re down. Just get back to the basics. Pass well, serve well, and then eventually you’re going to get back in the game.”
The end of Game 3 came down to the power of Kaneland’s Ellie Dunn against the craftiness of Central’s Lauren Wiltsie, and on this night, finesse prevailed, perhaps aided by a bit of luck.
With the score tied 23-all, Wiltsie – with her back to the net – bumped over a defensive-minded shot that found an unattended spot to give the Rockets a 24-23 edge.
“I didn’t expect to get a kill – I just hoped, and got it over,” Wiltsie said. “Just maybe a short, little pass just to get it in play, keep it in play. I’m so happy I was able to get a kill. It changed the momentum of the game.”
Dunn – who pounded kills for Kaneland’s 22nd, 23rd and 24th points – tied the match 24-all, but Wiltsie then feathered a crosscourt set-kill that landed in Kaneland’s front row to give the Rockets (2-0) the lead for good at 25-24. One Kaneland hitting error later, and the Rockets secured the improbable win.
Wiltsie, a junior, is a three-year varsity player. She led Central with nine kills.
“She’s just a creative player,” Leavitt said. “She understands the game. She finds the open spots, no matter what it is, whether she has to hit hard or just tip the ball, it doesn’t matter. We’ve been holding her out in the back row because she’s had some knee problems, trying to rest her a little bit, but we needed her today to play all the way around.”
First-year Kaneland coach Kerri McCastland said, despite the squandered leads, the Knights (3-2) are demonstrating early-season progress.
“It’s hard to teach your team how to be out of system, and those balls at the end were just all out of system,” McCastland said. “Whoever was there, was there and whoever wasn’t, wasn’t.
“They’re going to have to know each other better. My team is very young. They’ve been together nine days with a head coach that was there one day before the dead period [in the offseason]. Give them a minute.”
Kaneland led 14-6 in the third game when, just as she did in the first game, Rockets libero Allie O’Reilly (26 digs) helped lead her team back at the service line, drawing Central to within 14-12 on an ace.
A Wiltsie kill later made it 22-21 Central, and she wasn’t through with the crowd-pleasing drama.
“Where most teams would break down, we stay together and push through it and compete,” Wiltsie said. “I’m really glad. I’m proud of my team.”
Central trailed, 13-5, in Game 1 before O’Reilly’s serving slashed the Knights’ lead to one point. One of Dunn’s match-high 12 kills temporarily stemmed the tide.
Junior Maddy Barry had 14 assists for Central, which impressed Leavitt with strong team defense.
Anna Senese added 10 service points and six kills while Jenny Lubic notched 18 assists for Kaneland.
Leavitt said he expected longtime former Kaneland coach Todd Weimer to provide the opposition, not knowing that Weimer stepped down during the summer and was replaced by McCastland.
“I said is ‘Todd coming in late or what?’ and then I realized Todd’s not coming,” Leavitt said. “I talked to [McCastland] a little bit, but they have a really good team. ... They have several good players, and when you have a dominant hitter like [Dunn] and a good setter like [Lubic], you’re always going to be tough.”