Volleyball: Huntley rallies past Crystal Lake Central, runs FVC win streak to 19 straight

Morgan Jones’ 8 kills power Red Raiders to 25-23, 25-19 win

Huntley's Avery Gonzalez and Huntley's Morgan Jones tries to block the ball during a Fox Valley Conference volleyball match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Huntley High School.

HUNTLEY – Tuesday’s Fox Valley Conference girls volleyball opener between Crystal Lake Central and Huntley was yet another entertaining chapter in the two schools’ storied rivalry.

The match, which originally was slated to be held in Crystal Lake, was moved to Huntley because of concerns that Central’s gym would be too hot.

Early-on, it was the Tigers bringing the heat.

Central held a five-point lead (15-10) midway through the first set, thanks to stellar defensive play near the net, along with three energizing early-set kills from sophomore outside hitter Anna Starr.

But after a timeout moments later, Huntley coach Karen Naymola rallied her troops, then watched her lineup reel off an 8-1 run.

The Red Raiders ultimately proved to be too much, as they rallied for a 25-23, 25-19 victory in front of hundreds of fans.

“We have such a talented team,” Naymola said. “We’ve got 18 kids who know and love the sport inside and out. When they fell behind early, they took it upon themselves to overcome Central’s barrage.

“One point here, one point there. The girls started executing and just staying positive and energized. Those points began to add up, then they just sort of ran with it.”

Huntley senior outside hitter Morgan Jones, a Missouri commit, was named player of the match by Naymola, as she blasted eight combined kills – many from deep positions on the court, not just near the net.

“We want to prove ourselves after [going 18-0 in conference] last season,” Jones said. “We came out in front of our amazing home crowd and gave it everything we got.”

Crystal Lake Central’s Anna Starr tries to dig the ball in front of her teammate, Alexis Hadeler, during a Fox Valley Conference volleyball match against Huntley Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Huntley High School.

The Red Raiders (2-0, 1-0 FVC) also were without Kentucky commit Georgia Watson on Tuesday. She suffered an undisclosed pregame wrist injury.

Huntley got tremendous energy from senior outside hitter Lizzy Williams (nine kills), who was a catalyst for Huntley’s 12-1, second-set run, which broke an 8-8 tie.

She repeatedly put shots down, including five kills in the second set. Many were explosive, and she wasn’t hesitant to celebrate loudly after each one.

“I used to be more reserved and quiet and shy,” Williams said. “But now that I’m a senior, I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I want to find ways to energize and motivate my teammates and be a leader.”

Junior libero Mari Rodriguez (10 digs), meanwhile, seemed to scrape countless spikes destined for the gym floor off the ground at will at times, repeatedly diving and offering up one-handed saves.

Huntley now has won 19 consecutive regular-season FVC matches. The Raiders’ last regular-season conference loss was to Crystal Lake South, on Oct. 21, 2021. They’ve won 25 of their past 26 regular-season FVC contests.

Huntley's Mari Rodriguez and Morgan Jones hit as they trie to pass the ball during a Fox Valley Conference volleyball match against Crystal Lake Central Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Huntley High School.

The Tigers (1-1, 0-1 FVC), gave it their best effort, something not lost on Central coach Amy Johnson.

“We’ve got a young team [three seniors], but we’ve got a young team with lots of talent and a good amount of experience,” Johnson said. “So we aren’t going to be using our youth as an excuse.

“That first set, even though we didn’t finish it off, should show ourselves our true potential. It just got away from us at crucial points in the match. Our effort was strong.”

The Tigers got four kills and a pair of serving aces from junior Mykaela Wallen. And four blocks from middle blocker Siena Smiejek.

But it wasn’t enough to overcome the Red Raiders, or Jones, who also tallied a pair of critical aces late in the opening set.

“We just never quit,” Jones said. “This wasn’t your typical season-opening match, either. The intensity was real right away.

“I’m genuinely optimistic we can do big things this year if we keep working hard and play as a team for each other.”

Naymola agreed.

“These girls are so resilient,” Naymola said. “We had to alter our entire lineup and rotation after we lost Georgia to the wrist injury, and they adjusted almost flawlessly to that piece of adversity.

“Georgia does a great job being a leader, but the girls took it upon themselves to be leaders tonight. Once our nerves calmed down a little, everyone started communicating and being leaders of their own. It’s extremely encouraging to see, this early in the season.”

Huntley also saw big contributions from Alex Goritz (nine digs) and Laura Boberg (18 assists, 12 digs).