St. Charles East's girls volleyball team is headed to a familiar place, and the Saints got there in familiar fashion Saturday night at the Class 4A York supersectional.
For the third straight time in what has been a postseason run filled with one thrilling match after another, the Saints found themselves in a do-or-die third game.
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And for the third straight time, the Saints thrived in that tense, pressure-packed situation.
Meghan Niski and Nichole Lambert both delivered 4 kills in the third game and Caitlyn Ballard added 3 to cap St. Charles East's 21-25, 25-8, 25-17 come-from-behind win over Glenbrook South.
St. Charles East (34-6) will play Benet for the fourth time this year in the state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University.
"Maisey (Mulvey) and I, this is what we've been working on for three years," said Niski of returning to state after being part of the 2008 state champions. "We looked at each other on the court and had tears. I'm really glad we made it. We accomplished our goal."
The eight seniors on this year's Saints add to the program's proud tradition that now includes seven state berths -- three in the last five years. Five of the seven state appearances have come with coach Jennie Kull leading the way.
While each of the state trips has been memorable, rest assured none have been more dramatic than how the Saints got there this year winning the deciding third game against St. Charles North, York and now Glenbrook South.
"We had two emotional matches the last two days where there was so much energy needed to perform," Kull said. "I think there was kind of a lull going in. We didn't have our regular practice because they were so exhausted. It just took us some time to get back in our rhythm again.
"Once we got our tempo back and our confidence back we were able to play. We weren't as crisp but we got through it and I'm really proud."
Glenbrook South (17-21) entered with the kind of record not normally seen in a sectional team let alone a supersectional squad, yet the Titans quieted another huge St. Charles East crowd early. Glenbrook South took a 5-4 lead in Game 1 and never let the Saints catch up.
"We had looked at their record and were kind of surprised, but we watched film on them and knew they came this far and they are having a really good run," Niski said. "We did not underestimate them at all. I think the fist game was more of a mental game. We weren't playing our best game."
The Saints quickly got their game going in Game 2, breaking free from a 4-4 tie by outscoring the Titans 21-4 the rest of the way. Nicole Woods and Ballard had blocks to get the Saints rolling.
Leading 15-7, Woods stepped to the service line and scored 9 points. While the Titans started making mistakes with a series of hitting and passing errors, the Saints won their share of points on a block by Lambert, kills from Niski and Erienne Barry, and an ace by Woods. Niski took a set from Barry and slammed down game point.
"We had no idea what to expect from this team," Lambert said. "In Game 1 we were kind of playing not to lose whereas in Game 2 we were playing to win."
St. Charles East never trailed in Game 3. The Titans did have one run in them, closing an early 11-4 deficit into a 1-point game twice at 12-11 and 13-12.
That's when the Saints surged again, this time with Barry at the service line for 4 points that turned a 17-14 game into 21-14. Like they did Thursday against York, the Saints celebrated the victory when the Titans served long on match point.
"Words can't describe it," said Barry, who bounced back from a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore to set the Saints to state. "We have all worked so hard. It means the world to me. I can't explain it."
Titans coach Katie Hoover came away impressed with the Saints' attack.
"They were able to get more of their offense going (in the final 2 games)," Hoover said. "They have really powerful hitters. They are very hard to defend. Hats off to them.
"We had a season where we played a lot of tough competition and I think that helped us here at the end. We were able to overcome that obstacle of our record and were a surprise to everybody."
Kull praised her fans once again, a group that had Glenbrook South outnumbered three or four times over and included the girls cross country team that came straight from the state meet in Peoria earlier in the day.
"We owe so much to our fans," Lambert said. "They made this a homecourt advantage when it isn't even our home court. That was awesome."
Next comes Benet, a team that has handed the Saints three of their six losses. The Saints are looking forward to that challenge but not before they enjoy this accomplishment a little longer.
"I know for Meghan and Maisey this was always a dream to get back," Kull said. "I couldn't be prouder for them. It is a really cool group of kids. It's going to be a blast. This next week is going to be a blast to get ready and prepare."