CRYSTAL LAKE – Senior outside hitter Grace Franz took some time before she finally found the words to best describe her high school varsity volleyball experience at Kaneland, which included back-to-back regional championships.
"I can’t really put it into words,” Franz said. “It’s been breathtaking. It’s been such a fun year. I’m just so happy and grateful to be a part of it.”
The Knights’ season ended Monday with a 25-19, 25-13 loss Belvidere North in the Class 3A Crystal Lake South Sectional semifinals. Kaneland (29-9) was trying to make its second straight sectional final appearance.
Instead, Belvidere North (35-3) will play Crystal Lake Central (35-3) – which defeated Woodstock North, 25-15, 25-9, in the second semifinal – at 6 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner advancing to the LaSalle-Peru Supersectional.
The No. 3-seeded Knights were co-champions of the Interstate Eight Conference with LaSalle-Peru, and upset No. 2-seeded Prairie Ridge, 26-24, 25-22, last week to win their second straight regional championship.
Franz, who had four kills, two aces and a block, and the Knights enjoyed playing the underdog for most of the season.
“I think we could have given them a better game, but I thought we had an amazing season,” Franz said. “We went out every game and tried our hardest. I’m just grateful. We knew we would be underdogs, but we came out and gave it our all.”
Kaneland led Belvidere North, 9-8, in the first set, but the top-seeded Blue Thunder went on a 5-0 run to take a 13-9 lead.
Belvidere North had four aces in the first set and finished with six, led by Casey Neiber with three.
Kaneland also had little answer for Rachel Scott, who posted a match-high 10 kills, two blocks and an ace. Micaela Bowen added five kills, and Ava Irvin and Madison Clark had four kills apiece. Grace Bethke and Jayden Flynn each added one ace.
Kaneland was 73-13 over the past two seasons, including a school-record 34 wins last season. Junior middle blocker Olivia Burtell had three kills and three blocks, sophomore Meghan O’Sullivan had four kills, and sophomore Maddie Buckley added two kills.
The Knights graduate four seniors: Franz, Grace Vranicar, Ava Ohmen and Sarah Lakomek.
“Belvidere North has a lot of weapons,” Kaneland coach Cyndi Violett said. “They serve hard and aggressive, and we struggled a lot in serve receive. They took our weapon out of play, serving hard and attacking Grace (Franz).
"We had a really great season. A lot of people weren’t expecting it.”