With full student sections representing both sides and emotions running high, the Lincoln-Way Central girls volleyball team felt like they had something to prove in the Class 4A regional final at Providence Thursday night.
Lincoln-Way Central (26-11) defeated Shepard earlier in the week to set up a showdown with cross-town rival Providence Catholic (28-9). And the Knights took a thriller 19-25, 25-19, 25-19 thanks in large part to the work of senior outside hitter Danielle Dowd.
Dowd finished with 10 kills and four service aces, three of those coming with the match on the line in Game 3.
But who knew there would be a Game 3. Early on, it looked as though Providence would have an easy time of it against Lincoln-Way Central. The Celtics were at home, had rousing support from the varsity football team (taking up nearly all of the Providence student section) and had a 23-15 lead in Game 1.
The Celtics went on to win 25-19. In fact, they never trailed in the first game, and the Knights never managed to close within one point. Providence's attack was led by senior outside hitter Nora Mitros, who put down five of her seven kills in the early going.
The second and third games, however, went to the Knights. The Celtics never had the lead in Game 2 after the first point, though the score was tied seven times. Lincoln-Way Central went on an 8-2 scoring rally, starting at 16-14.
Providence fought valiantly. Down 24-16, the Celtics scored three straight points to get within 24-19, but Dowd slammed the door on the rally to give the Knights a 25-19 win.
In Game 3, Lincoln-Way Central and Providence were tied eight times, including as late as 16-all. Providence called a timeout trailing 20-17 to try to re-establish control, but it was the Knights who prevailed.
After a Lisa Keller kill (her first of the night), Dowd ripped off three straight service aces to give Central a 24-17 lead. It was Keller who pounded down the final kill after two points from Providence.
"We started off shaky, then we clicked into gear," Dowd said. "We wanted to prove that we were the team to come back and win. They beat us before, but we beat them when it counts."
Providence played nearly flawless volleyball in Game 1, but unforced errors in the final two games cost the Celtics greatly, and Lincoln-Way Central was able to take advantage.
"It really comes down to passing and (Central) passed better than us, and they were able to execute on their hits," Providence head coach Rachel Ellingson said. "Our passing was a little off the net, which didn't allow us to run our middle blockers or our right side, and they took advantage of that."
"This match had a lot of meaning for us," Lincoln-Way Central coach Kathy Sulkowski said. "This time around, I told the girls they had nothing to lose. They cemented the fact they wanted this match. They kept improving their play as the match went along. We don't want this season to end."
Lincoln-Way Central now looks forward to playing conference foe Sandburg in sectional semifinal action at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Andrew. The Eagles defeated Lincoln-Way North in straight sets.
"We know we beat Sandburg last week, so now they have something to prove," Sulkowski said. "We need to keep practicing hard in the gym. I know this team has the mental toughness to do that."