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Mooseheart senior Erin Stryker (No. 3) rises to deliver one of her many kill attempts in the Ramblers season-ending loss to Luther North in the IHSA Class 1A Luther North Regional title match.
Mooseheart's Jade Sanni passes the ball in the third game of the Ramblers' 15-25, 25-21, 25-18 loss to Luther North.
Mooseheart's Leslie Ballard keeps a ball from hitting the floor while teammate Erin Stryker watches.
CHICAGO, IL, Oct. 25 - Dominant with its serve, strong defensively and fluid running its offense - Mooseheart's volleyball team moved confidently to a 25-15 victory in the first game of Thursday's match against the host Wildcats in the IHSA Class 1A Luther North Regional title match.
The match did not go decidedly downhill from that point, but Luther North rallied, claimed a very hardfought game 25-21 and then surged from a 15-15 tie to claim the deciding game 25-18 and set off wild oncourt celebrations with their boisterous fans.
"We walked in knowing we could beat this team," Shuman said. "We've beaten them twice this season, once in the regular season and once in a tournament. We knew that we could do it. I just knew that walking into here with their home crowd was going to be tough."
That opening game kept Luther North's fans more or less quiet and more importantly, kept the Wildcats' players moving. The Ramblers surged from a 3-3 tie thanks to strong serving from Madison Hart. A sophomore, Hart had a strong match both serving and defensively.
"She always keeps a level head," Shuman said. "I talk to her and she might not be level inside, she can portray that even keel for the team. She started swinging there in that first game. And she's only a sophomore. I can't wait to see her really getting in and swinging and passing. She's going to be a phenomenal player."
When Hart's serving run ended, Mooseheart held a 9-3 lead and the gap never dipped below four points in the game.
Kept quiet in the first game, Luther North's crowd upped the volume in the second game and the Wildcats got stronger play as well. Tied six times in the contest, the Wildcats edged ahead from a 17-17 tie and never trailed again.
"You let them in a little bit and they get that momentum building and it's hard to stop that train," Shuman said. "They were off and running and starting to find their swings and starting to find their hitters. It's hard to come back out of that hole sometimes."
The two components of the Wildcats' play that came forward in the second game were their serve receive and their front line hitting. Neither were strong in the first game, but both were critically important in the second and continued into the deciding game.
"I think our serve was a huge one again tonight," Shuman said. "Now after the third time they've seen us, Jasmine Martinez is a phenomenal server for us. She took so much off them the first time we saw them. This time, they were ready for her and that took a little bit off her serve."
Time and again, Mooseheart set to hitters Erin Stryker and Abi Alade - but as the match wore on, Luther North kept those kill attempts from hitting the floor, extending rallies until Mooseheart made an error.
"Their defense was tremendous tonight," Shuman said. "We just couldn't get a ball down sometimes. I told the girls after the first game that we couldn't afford to have that many long rallies. It's exhausting and it will take your energy and it will be gone."
Mooseheart's only senior and its top kill threat, Stryker's career ended on Thursday. In one extended rally, the Ramblers set to Stryker at least six times, and the Wildcats kept each attempt alive.
"It is exhausting to go up and swing that many times and then to come away with nothing," Stryker said. "Emotionally it takes a toll and physically it just drains you. My hat's off to Luther North. They played a great game tonight."
A year ago, Mooseheart (3-16) graduated nearly its entire starting lineup. This year, only Stryker leaves the squad.
"It is hard to say good-bye to (Stryker)," Shuman said. "She's going to be hard to replace, both on and off the court. But I see the potential there for people to step into that role. She's just an all-around player. She passes, she hits, she can pass the ball to someone else and she serves phenomenally. And the girls look up to her."