SHABBONA – The deciding game or match within any given series between two battle-tested opponents often is highly anticipated and almost always proves to be extremely exciting.
The stage is now set for Newark vs. Earlville: Round 3.
After the two schools split a pair of earlier decisions – the first going to the Raiders in September while the second went to the Norsemen earlier this month – both clubs will battle for a winner-takes-the-title rubber match Thursday evening for the championship of the Class 1A Indian Creek Regional.
No. 2-seeded Newark (30-6) dispatched No. 12 Somonauk, 25-16, 25-15 during the first regional semifinal Wednesday, while in the nightcap No. 3 Earlville did the same against the No. 6-seeded host Timberwolves, 25-17, 25-15.
The Norsemen will be seeking their 13th regional title in school history and fourth in a row, while the Raiders are looking for their third regional crown, with the last one coming in 2017 during the co-op with Leland.
Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Newark def. Somonauk 25-16, 25-15
It was a great way to celebrate an 18th birthday, as Norsemen senior all-state candidate Megan Williams proved to be a dominant force, collecting a game-high 14 kills with 10 service points and four aces as Newark punched its ticket to its fourth consecutive 1A regional title tilt.
“You’re only 18 once, so it was a nice way to spend my birthday with my teammates in a big win,” Williams said. “I think we’re ready for another regional championship tomorrow, but I know it’ll be tough.”
Williams had some help from sophomores Lauren Ulrich (20 assists) and Kiara Wesseh (five kills, five digs) as Newark reached the 30-win plateau for the fourth consecutive season and fifth in school history.
Somonauk (11-7) saw its season come to a close after fine efforts from seniors Karlee McBride (five kills), Aubrey Westbrook (12 digs), Sydney Johnson (six assists) and Maggie Roberts (two stuff blocks).
“We tried to make some adjustments, and I was proud of how we played, but we couldn’t keep up with a powerful attack like that even though the girls gave it all they had,” Somonauk coach Aleesha Carlson said. “Overall, I was proud of the year we had and how the girls came together as a team even though we fell short tonight.”
“We’ll be ready, and I know the girls are wanting this next one badly,” said Newark assistant coach P.J. McKinney, subbing for head coach Tonya Grayson who is out due to shoulder surgery. “We’ve played Earlville both times without a full squad, so now we’ll see what we can do against them with one. It should be very exciting tomorrow night.”
Earlville def. Indian Creek 25-17, 25-15
The left side of the Raiders hitting attack was lethal. After a pair of three-set thrillers earlier in the season where both teams split wins, the Raiders ran away and hid this time.
Senior Brynn Guelde was the main catalyst in the attack with 11 left-side kills along with 12 digs that went along with six left-net winners as well from sophomore Nevaeh Sansone.
“This is how we wanted it tonight going into the championship match against Newark,” Guelde said. “We wanted to dominate, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. My setter was fantastic. She made it pretty easy on me to get my shots in.”
That setter – senior Emma Benson – was magnificent with her accuracy, providing 22 deftly placed assists and digging up eight balls on defense. Senior Elizabeth Browder also contributed to the winning mix with four kills and two blocks.
Indian Creek received solid totals from junior Audrey Witte (11 digs, five kills, two aces), senior Kaitlyn Frazier (20 digs), junior Audriana DeClue (13 digs) and senior Clara Hulthen (nine assists). But it wasn’t nearly enough to combat Earlville’s effort.
“Earlville came out on fire, we were back on our heels all match, and with all that confidence they showed, we just struggled to keep up with them,” Indian Creek coach Stephanie Crutcher said. “We tried and never gave up, still hustling and hitting the floor, which is all you can ask of the girls, but it just wasn’t enough against an opponent that really played very well tonight.”
The Raiders were never tested in either set, leading by as many as seven points in the first and a whopping 12 late in the second as senior Alexis Olson closed out game one with an ace and a middle block on match point to blow the match away.
“You’ve got to leave it all on the court in the playoffs, and I thought we did a great job of that tonight against a team we battled hard against two other times this season,” Earlville coach Tonya Scherer said. “I’m proud of this effort, and now we’ve got to get things done tomorrow versus Newark. We’re prepared, and hopefully we can win a regional.”