Young tops Payton, advances to Public League final

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For the last four years, Young has dominated the Public League girls volleyball landscape. Having won four city titles in a row, the Dolphins were one match away from playing for a fifth when they faced rival Payton in Thursday’s second semifinal at Kenwood.

The Dolphins will get a chance for that fifth title after defeating the Grizzlies 25-21, 25-21. The two teams played very early in the season, which Payton won in a three-game thriller, so this game served as some redemption for Young.

“Every year we want to beat Payton the most, it’s a big season goal,’’ Young’s Ann Ernst said. “At the beginning of the year it was different for us, because we lost six seniors and had three freshmen this year. We knew there were going to be some growing pains, but we’ve grown as a team since then.’’

With every year that the Dolphins win a title, it becomes harder on the players and the pressure builds to live up to their former teammates, but that isn’t always a bad thing and can lead to some motivation.

“There’s always a little pressure, but it’s a drive to make you not want to lose,’’ Ernst said. “It makes you want it more.’’

To get that coveted crown, Young (17-10) will have to defeat Kennedy, which has had a phenomenal season thus far, having dropped only one set to a Public League team — and that was in Thursday’s first semifinal against Northside. The Crusaders swept the Dolphins earlier this season.

“Playing in the city is going to be in our advantage, because we’re used to being there and they’re going to be nervous,’’ Ernst said.

“We played them before and they beat us. I noticed they didn’t stay to watch our match. We always stay to see who we’re going to play. It just means they think they’re going to beat us, but after the way we played today, that’s a big mistake.’’

The match got off as many Young-Payton matches have, with the teams going point-for-point, none getting more than a three-point lead. With the score tied at 17, the Dolphins used a Grizzlies service error and two aces by Maya Popernick to propel them to a 4-1 spurt and give Young a four-point lead at 22-18. The Grizzlies (21-12) didn’t recover and the Dolphins eeked out the win.

Game 2 was much of the same, but it was the Dolphins who used a Jessica Lathan kill to break a seven-all tie and go on an 8-4 run. It looked as if Young had seized control, but the Grizzlies fought back.

Payton went on a 6-0 run to take the lead, but the two teams, as in Game 1, continued to trade points until Lathan took to the service line with her team down 21-20. The Dolphins got three kills from Popernick and an ace from Lathan as they closed out the game and the match.

Ernst led the Dolphins with six kills, while Molly McGrath added five and Popernick four. Olivia Rozmus led Payton with a match-high seven kills.

Young faces Kennedy at 6 p.m. Friday at Chicago State.

Ernst and her teammates are ready.

“They’re not gonna know what’s coming.’’

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