Lincoln-Way Central knocks off Stagg, Lincoln-Way North moves past Marian Catholic

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Lincoln-Way Central 25-25, Stagg 14-19

Mallory Huddlestun waited for her chance and didn’t disappoint when it came along.

With Maria Brown and Jacqueline Langer keying Lincoln-Way Central’s offense, the senior middle doesn’t need to slam home 10 or 15 kills a match.

But as was the case Tuesday, Huddlestun and fellow middle Candace Finnin showed they’ve got some offensive pop of their own, helping Lincoln-Way Central to a 25-14, 25-19 win over Stagg in a 4A Marian Catholic Regional semifinal.

“We use our outsides for our power kills, but we’re (the middles) there, ready for the kill,” Huddlestun said.

Huddlestun (3 blocks), Finnin (3 kills, 5 blocks), Brown (9 kills), Langer (6 kills) and Mariel Liebovitz (20 assists) paced Central (29-7) who will play Lincoln-Way North for the regional crown Thursday.

Having won the first set in dominant fashion, the Knights turned to their middles in the second, Huddlestun and Finnin coming through with four blocks as part of a 9-2 match-changing run.

“Blocking is our thing,” Huddlestun said. “It’s go time, and you make sure you get it, stuff the ball.”

Ari Mantas (7 kills), Lexi Mantas (6 kills) and Hannah Yandel (10 assists) led Stagg (16-21).

“We didn’t come out strong the first set,” Lexi Mantas said. “We got the nerves out the second, and Central is an amazing team.”

Lincoln-Way North 25-25, Marian Catholic 23-17

After losing to Marian Catholic two weeks ago in a tournament, Lincoln-Way North won when it counted, taking down the host Spartans 25-23, 25-17 in the other regional semifinal.

“(The loss) has been on my mind,” North’s Valen Manns said. “In class I’m staring at the clock thinking ‘This is the day. It’s gonna happen.’ I was shaking in my desk all day.”

Manns had six kills and three blocks to lead North (29-6) with Rachel Burkman (7 kills), Shannon Murphy (23 assists) and Brittany Pappas (5 kills) contributing.

A junior middle, Manns came through huge in the second to punctuate Niki Wagner’s match-closing service run. Wagner had six service points to close out the second set, including the final point on an ace, with Manns adding two gym-rattling blocks.

“We practice that execution all the time,” Manns said. “It helps us get super pumped, and the adrenaline was really going in the second.”

Lincoln-Way North closed on a 9-1 run, Wagner accounting for the last six points.

Amber Clay (9 kills), Kendyl Todd (6 kills, 3 blocks), and Madeline Huekels (21 assists) led Marian Catholic (19-18).

“You could feel the energy switch in the second,” Clay said. “It got desperate, and we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. That’s what cost us, but for me, (playing with this team) has been one of the best experiences of my life.”

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