JOHNSBURG — After winning the first set handily — then taking a sizeable lead midway through the second set — the Johnsburg girls volleyball team looked like it would coast to an easy victory against Marengo Tuesday night.
But the Indians had other ideas.
Marengo stormed back to force a third set, then hung around long enough to put a huge scare into the Skyhawks, who held on for a 25-12, 23-25, 25-17 win that had big Kishwaukee River Conference implications.
Instead of falling two games behind first-place Burlington Central, Johnsburg (20-6, 8-1 KRC) stayed within striking distance of a conference title, with just three KRC matches left. That includes a regular-season finale against the Rockets on Oct. 19.
The Skyhawks, understandably, aren't looking that far ahead yet.
"We've still got matches against Harvard and Richmond-Burton left on our schedule, and if we look past those two, what happens against Burlington won't matter," Skyhawks coach Jackie Barnette said.
GLAD TO BE BACK
Tuesday's victory at home was a welcome break from all the traveling the Skyhawks had grown accustomed to.
"I think we only had one match at home the entire month of September," Barnette said. "We were all over the place. And then we had homecoming, and a tournament in Huntley last weekend, too. Those things can wear a team down. I told the girls on Monday, this is a new start, and a new chapter to our season from here on out."
The Skyhawks seemed to take that message to heart early against Marengo (11-9, 5-5), thanks in large part to junior setter Adisyn Illg, who had 13 digs and 28 assists. She was rock-steady from start to finish, and despite not having a ton of flash to her game, was as consistent as anyone on the court.
"Adisyn never gets the kind of credit she deserves," Barnette said. "She's touched the ball over 800 times for us this season, and just does all the little things we ask of her right.
"She rarely lets a ball drop in front of her. She plays smart. And her sets are almost always put in the perfect spots for her teammates. I can't emphasize enough what she means to this team."
That's something seniors Alexandra Arber (eight kills) and Abby Wemple, who had a team-best 14 kills, found out firsthand.
"Adisyn and the rest of my teammates gave me a ton of opportunities to finish strong tonight," Wemple said. "And when we faced adversity, everyone stepped up big. We just tried to play smarter and more aggressive when things got tough. We played as a team when it mattered most. That's when we're at our best."
After dropping the first set, then trailing 15-9 midway through the second set, Marengo coach Meg Dobbertin called timeout.
"During the timeout, I reminded our girls of something I told them before the match," Dobbertin said. "I told them I only wanted positive remarks, even if one of their teammates does something wrong. When we fell behind, I could see it starting to wear on them. I wanted to find some sort of spark to change our mood and energy. Because when you are positive instead of negative, it really can have a huge impact on your attitude and focus."
The tactic worked. Marengo scored 14 of the next 18 points to stun the Skyhawks, and forced a third set. They then jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead in the final set, and were tied 8-8, before Johnsburg pulled away for good.
Bailey Bertrand (six kills, two blocks, one ace), Lillie Simons (five kills, seven blocks), Emily Euker (four kills, three blocks, three aces) and Keridan Velasquez (three kills) were routinely set up for finishes by Abigail Vito (23 assists) and others.
Bertrand was spectacular in short bursts in the second and third sets.
"She's a sophomore who we pulled up to varsity last year," Dobbertin said. "She suffered an awful ankle sprain the second game of the season. It kept her out for six weeks. This was only her second game back. She's already given us a huge boost. Her energy is infectious."
STAR OF THE MATCH
Johnsburg, Sr., outside hitter
The later the match went, the bigger Wemple came up big near the net. Six of her match-best 14 kills were in the third set, when Johnsburg broke an 8-8 tie to win.
45: The total combined digs by Wemple (10),Gillian Battaglia (10), Reagan Myers (12) and Adisyn Illg (13).
AND ANOTHER THING...
Illg (28 assists), Megan Madsen (seven blocks), Sedona Pecucci (three kills) and Morgan Madsen (three kills, two aces) all factored in the Johnsburg victory.