Nazareth survives ‘chaos’ to best St. Charles North at Harvest Fest

Nazareth defeated St. Charles North to win Harvest Fest despite losing middle hitter Leilani Dodson (second from left) to an ankle injury late in the second set of the championship match.

By Randy Whalen
Special to


The Nazareth volleyball team prepared itself for a chaotic moment all season long. When it happened, the Roadrunners were ready.

With one of their top players, junior middle hitter Leilani Dodson, on the bench with her left ankle on ice and elevated for the third set, the Roadrunners didn’t flinch. They stayed together and pulled off a 23-25, 25-18, 25-21 victory over St. Charles North in the championship match of the 32-team Fall Harvest Fest Saturday at Plainfield Central.

Dodson (8 kills, 3 blocks) was huge with 4 kills and 3 blocks for Nazareth (26-3) in the second set. But after putting down her final kill, she twisted her ankle late in the set and sat out the rest of the match.

The North Stars (28-5) suffered an injury of their own when senior middle hitter Brigid McCarthy fell on her shoulder late in the third set.

“We train a lot for a chaos situation,” said Nazareth coach Melissa Masterson. “Fortunately, we haven’t been in too many of those, but when we were (against St. Charles North), the girls were awesome. It was a good team win.”

The North Stars had a few early leads in the final set, the last one at 5-4. Nazareth, however, scored the next 3 points and never trailed again. There were nine ties in the third set, the last one at 13-13. Another 3-0 Roadrunner run followed, highlighted by an ace from senior Sam Veome, as they captured the lead for good.

With Nazareth leading 16-15, sophomore outside hitter Izzy Decker (11 kills) had a pair of kills in a 3-0 burst. Ahead 19-16, Nazareth junior setter Ella Sandt (25 assists, 19 digs) and McCarthy went up for a 50-50 ball.

The Roadrunners got the point and McCarthy went down in pain on the play with a possible dislocated shoulder. The North Stars closed within 2 points twice. The last time at 22-20. But senior outside hitter Wren Decker (6 kills) answered with a kill and St. Charles North hit a return into the net to make it 24-20.

St. Charles North’s senior outside hitter Grace Lilly (9 kills) saved a match point, but Wren Decker walloped a final kill to clinch it.

“We just have a growth mentality,” said Sandt of the Roadrunners’ attitude when Dodson went out. “It’s a mental game even more than a physical one, so we had to stay mentally tough.

“To win this tournament is awesome. We had so many close games with a lot of intensity. So it’s awesome to win a match like this.”

The opening set was one of those close ones. It featured 12 ties, the last one at 22-22, and five lead changes. A kill by St. Charles North senior setter setter/rightside Katie Lanz (8 kills) ended the opener.

When the North Stars jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set, Masterson called a time out.

“Sometimes they get inside their own heads,” Masterson said of why she called a time out that early. “So I just reminded them to focus and good things would happen.”

They did as Izzy Decker deposited three straight kills to tie it. Trailing 6-4, Dodson demolished a trio of blocks and a kill and Sandt used mostly a float serve as Nazareth went on an 11-0 blitz to take control.

Dodson had a final kill to make it 23-13 but came down wrong on her ankle and sat out after that.

Trailing 24-14, St. Charles North saved 4 set points, including two on a pair of kills by Lanz. But a tip kill by senior rightside hitter Mary Kate Kelly (6 kills) ended the second set.

Freshman libero Gillian Grimes (25 digs) also contributed for the Roadrunners. Senior outside hitter Gigi Crescenzo (12 kills, 26 digs) led St. Charles North. Junior setter/rightside hitter Kyla Lambert (8 kills, 19 assists) and junior libero Maddie Gorniak (17 digs, 2 aces) also chipped in for the North Stars.

“We’re hoping she (McCarthy) is OK,” said St. Charles North coach Lindsey Hawkins.  “In the second set, our serve-receive broke down and they went on a huge run. We have to minimize our errors. But we were seeded seventh here and battled until the end. I’m really proud of the team.”

Nazareth opened the day with a 25-23, 25-21 win over Normal U-High, and followed that up with a 27-25, 29-27 victory over host Plainfield Central. The North Stars handed Sterling its first loss of the season with a 28-26, 25-19 win, and then toppled Crystal Lake Central 25-12, 25-15 in the semifinals.

In the third-place match, Crystal Lake Central rebounded with a 15-25, 25-15, 25-22 victory over Plainfield Central.

The victorious Tigers were led by junior setter/rightside hitter Camryn Hausler (11 kills, 11 assists). Sophomores Madeline Timmerman (7 kills, 6 blocks, 6 digs, 2 aces) and Maddy McCormick (7 kills, 8 digs, 3 aces) along with Karina Simotos (13 digs) and junior Grace Levin (17 assists) contributed for Crystal Lake Central (26-5).

“It was our first year here and we wanted to play some different teams,” said Crystal Lake Central coach Lisa Brunstrum, whose team defeated Naperville North 25-20, 25-16 to open the day.

“We were down a couple of starters for various reasons and we played three sophomores and two freshmen. It was great to do this well against great competition.”

Plainfield Central (23-8) was paced by junior outside hitter Taylor Landfair (8 kills, 3 blocks), senior setters/rightside hitters Grace Brock (9 kills, 12 assists) and Regan Trueblood (16 assists), along with senior libero Katie Shook (16 digs, 4 aces).

The Wildcats defeated Waunakee (Wisconsin) 25-27, 25-16, 25-23 in the opening match of the day.

“We have to stay stabilized during the big points,” said Plainfield Central coach Erik Vogt. “We made a few too many errors and we can’t do that on key points.”

After losing its first match of the season, Sterling rebounded for a 25-17, 25-20 win over Waunakee to capture fifth place.

Sophomore outside hitter Brooklyn Borum led the way with 58 kills on the weekend. Playing at rightside hitter and setter, her twin sister Bree Borum bashed 40 kills and had 70 assists. Older sister, senior Josi Borum, banged 31 kills and added 65 assists and 11 digs from her right side/setter position.

Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez (85 digs) played her usual stellar defense for the Golden Warriors (32-1), who defeated Naperville North 25-18, 20-23, 25-12 following the loss to St. Charles North.

“Absolutely, it was good for us to be in this tournament,” said Sterling coach Dale Dykeman. “All the teams we played (Saturday) were ranked in the Top 10 and we went 4-1. This forced us to do some things in system that we usually don’t do. This was a great experience and should make us a better team.”

Waunakee (43-6), which is ranked No. 6 in Division 1 in Wisconsin, followed up its fourth-place tournament finish from the previous season with a sixth-place run. Naperville North defeated Normal U-High for seventh.

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