BREESE — It's become an all-too-familiar scenario for Central coach Jim Cook, whose team has struggled in the second set of many matches this season.
The Cougars battled through a tight first set and then crumbled in the second set of a 25-20, 25-10 loss to the Wheaton St. Francis Spartans on Friday in the Class 3A state volleyball tournament.
"We played with them, I thought, in the first (set), but it's been a season-long problem in the second set," Cook said. "We start out and the passing goes bad and then our offense can't get going. We certainly can't play against a team like them without our offense going."
The loss sends the Cougars (35-6) into the third-place match, where they'll play the Chicago Payton Grizzlies (27-12) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena.
"We have to forget about the (last) game, but at the same time we have to use it to bounce back," said Central middle hitter Maddie Timmermann, who led all hitters in the match with 10 kills. "We need fire and we need enthusiasm to win.
"Obviously, we all want to win, so we have to come together and prove it."
Mary Boken had nine kills and five blocks and freshman Kamryn Mallow had six kills and two blocks for the Spartans (38-3), who will be seeking their 10th state championship under coach Peg Kopec when they play the LaSalle Peru Cavaliers (35-3) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
"It is a complete thrill," Kopec said of playing for another state title. "Some people will ask me, 'Does this every get old?' Not on your life. I feel blessed and fortunate every time we are able to return to Normal."
The Cougars fell behind 6-1 in the first set, but came back to tie the score at 7-7 on a four-point service run by Timmermann.
The Spartans went up back up 14-9 after a block by Boken and stretched their advantage to 23-17 after a stuff block by Malloy and an ace by Sam Dubiel.
A kill by Boken took the Spartans to 24-19.
A kill by Timmermann staved off one set point, but then the Cougars were called for a net violation.
The errors started piling up in the second set as the Spartans rolled out to a 12-2 lead and never looked back.
"The second set was just a whole lot of bad passing," Cook said.
The Cougars also had problems with their serve receive as the Spartans had four service aces in the second set.
"I think (it was) just lack of execution," Cook said. "Their libero (Dubiel) changed up her serve a bunch of times, but it wasn't giving us problems in the first (set).
"It's something that has been happening most of the year, and we can't figure out, 'What goes."'
Unable to pass the ball well enough to run their offense, the Cougars resorted to some tips and soft hits.
"If you play soft with a group like that, they are going to bring the ball down your nose," Cook said. "That's all there is to it."
A kill by Makenzie Jackson and two kills by Maisie Kampwerth were unable to stem the tide as the Spartans still held a 19-7 advantage.
The final two points of the match came on kills by Boken and Sarah Muisenga.
"It's really frustrating, but when that happens, we need to come together as a team," Timmermann said of the collapse in the second set. "It was hard for us to do tonight because we all wanted to win so bad, so we all got frustrated with ourselves and put our heads down. I did, too.
"Tomorrow, we need to come together as a team and lift each other up instead of bring each other down."
The Cougars also got seven assists from Torre Kohrmann and Lauren Willis along with five digs from Sophie Rickhoff and four digs from Taylor Rakers.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.