From crutches to seven kills in the regional final.
Such was the 24-hour span for Lincoln-Way North’s Brad McFarland.
McFarland, who with Jake Walenga forms one of the premier outside hitting tandems in the Southland, sprained his ankle Monday during practice. He missed the semifinals but returned to help the Phoenix capture the Lincoln-Way Central Regional championship Wednesday with a 25-16, 25-18 victory over Lincoln-Way West.
Second-seeded North advances to play No. 3 Sandburg at 7 p.m. Friday at Andrew in a sectional semifinal.
“I worked my butt off to get back to playing,” McFarland said. “I’ve done stretches all night. Ice on for 20 minutes, off for an hour, three or four times a night. It’s been rough, but I had to play.”
Walenga led North (33-3) with 10 kills. Zac Blasgen was a beast in the back row with 19 digs, while setters Matt Burke and Austin Faller dished 18 and eight assists, respectively.
Lincoln-Way West (25-10), which competed in its first regional final after setting a school record for wins, received 10 kills from Tony Prospero. Michael Wexter recorded 22 assists, Nick Pentek added six kills and Jake Martin and Danny Murphy had 10 digs apiece.
“We knew we were probably going to see them in the playoffs again after they gave us a really good match on our home court,” Walenga said. “We did a lot of scouting. Our coach (Matt Lawrence) drew up a really good game plan for us.”
North jumped out to a 13-3 first-set lead behind two kills from Walenga and a block from McFarland, and the Phoenix cruised from there.
The second set was much more competitive with five ties, the last of which came on a slick dump from Wexter to knot the game at 13. McFarland later helped North to a 21-16 lead, and he closed it out later with another swing.
“We lose some seniors for next year, but we’re a young team and grew a ton this season,” West coach Rory Harrison said. “I can’t wait to see what they look like in years to come.”