LAKE ZURICH — Before every volleyball match this season, Lake Zurich’s girls team performed a ritual.
Just after warm-ups, the team would find a hallway outside the gymnasium and huddle together. Then sing. And dance. Then sing and dance some more.
“First the outsides would go dance, then the middles, then the rights, then the [defensive specialists],” senior libero Ashley Dina said. “We just say, ‘Go, go. Do it. Go, go. Do it.’ We scream together. It gets us pumped up.”
The ritual may seem like girls channeling nervous energy. It was. But it also provided a window into what made the 2013 Bears one of the best teams in school history.
The on-court chemistry of seniors Dina, Kristen Walding, Mallory Parsons, Kiley McPeek, Sydney Glover and Natalie Corrigan was a driver of the team’s 35-win season. That chemistry was on display when it mattered most, in a 25-23, 25-22 Class 4A sectional championship victory over Stevenson on Nov. 7. Lake Zurich trailed in both sets, only to seize back control of the match’s rhythms. Each time the Bears needed a key block, dig or kill, they got it.
“One of our goals this year was to stay patient on the court, which has really helped our mental game,” said Walding, who graduates as the school’s all-time assists leader. “When we are in a tight situation, we can get the ball down.”
Lake Zurich’s sectional championship was its first since 2009. The Bears were one match away from making their first trip downstate. Saturday, in the supersectional round at Huntley, they faced a team equal in talent and experience in Crystal Lake South. The Gators executed with more precision, winning the momentum-swinging points the Bears were used to taking.
The 25-18, 25-20 loss ended Lake Zurich’s season, but did not diminish the Bears’ accomplishments.
“They [Crystal Lake South] deserved to win as they played better than us,” coach Matt Aiello said. “This group, I’ll remember the genuineness, the all-out effort and commitment. It’s been pretty special to accomplish what they accomplished.”
Led by Walding, the Bears would not have achieved as much as they did without the core group of seniors. But the team enjoyed class balance. Junior hitter Mickenzie Andrews was in the rotation, along with freshman hitter Lexi Gora. Freshman setter Hannah Sweetwood took reps in practice with Walding all season, and the Bears hope she can take Walding’s role in 2014.
“Don’t think that Lake Zurich is going away,” Aiello said. “[People] are very mistaken if they think that.”
For now, it’s time to celebrate 2013, as the Bears always did before matches. Singing, dancing, then playing and winning together, that’s the legacy of this season’s Bears.
“This playoff season we really came together. So much that we did it for each other,” Dina said.
Walding added: “It’s such a great experience, being on the court with your best friends and winning a championship. Nothing’s better.”