In the delirious postgame celebration following St. Charles East's 21-25, 25-8, 25-17 victory over Glenbrook South Saturday night at the Class 4A York supersectional, Saints coach Jennie Kull let out a big cheer for a group of people who had been doing the same for her team during the match.
"Way to go fans!" Kull yelled with a huge smile on her face.
When the Saints take the court Friday night at Redbird Arena in Normal, there won't be another team at the state tournament with more fan support than St. Charles East.
The players have noticed it throughout the postseason, starting with the huge home court edge their fans gave them at the St. Charles East sectional and continuing Saturday night in Elmhurst.
Senior Nichole Lambert said those fans made Saturday's game feel like they had the home court advantage again, just like the sectional. The fans included their classmates on the St. Charles East girls cross country team who traveled straight to York from taking third place earlier in the day at the state meet in Peoria.
"I was absolutely shocked that there was that amount of kids that would come this far and be here to support here," Kull said. "I even saw our cross country team brought the bus right from Peoria to come here and support us. I said it before and I truly mean it, that's a Saint thing. These kids are committed to their school and to their friends. We couldn't have been as good without them."
Kull had the same sentiment Thursday night after the way East fans supported her team in the sectional finals against York, even crediting them with a 10-point swing for keeping the momentum on St. Charles East's side while the Dukes made several costly service errors that helped decide the match.
"I've never been to a high school football game or basketball game or anything that was like this," Kull said Thursday night after beating the No. 1 sectional seed York.
"We do have, it's a Saint thing, we have the best fans, the best support, the student body. People talk about St. Charles, this is what it is. These two days (at sectionals) is what high school sports is about. Our student body rallies around the kids and it's just amazing."
Senior Meghan Niski, like Lambert and several other players, went out of her way to thank her classmates and the community support.
"I can't even explain how grateful I am for our students right now," Niski said Thursday. "I've been telling all my friends to come. The towels and the orange out and the cheers, it helped us so much. We couldn't have done it without them. It was everyone today. It wasn't just the players, it was every single person in this gym helping us."
Those three straight 3-game wins last week send St. Charles East to state this weekend for the seventh time in school history.
The Saints will put their 34-6 record on the line Friday against 37-3 Benet, a powerful team full of Division I players that has handed St. Charles East half of its six losses this year.
Like Niski, senior libero Maisey Mulvey was a freshman who helped the last Saints state team in 2008 win the state championship -- ironically over Benet.
"I knew we were going to be very successful," Mulvey said. "We have worked very hard since summer. We had our goals set at the beginning of the year and were very, very confident we could go all the way."
Niski dominated all year during the Saints' 29-6 regular season, finishing with 328 kills, an average of 9.4 a match. The James Madison-bound senior has taken her game to another level throughout the postseason with 14, 10, 17, 18 and 15 kills in the five matches for an average of 14.8.
"This is her senior year," Kull said. "The seniors are really committed. Right now Meghan had a great freshman season, she has had great seasons and this is her last one. It's important to her. They are on a mission. They want to make things happen."
Niski certainly is doing just that, continually coming up with the big kills just at the point in the match when momentum seems to be slipping away.
"I have the same feeling I had freshman year and I don't want that to stop. I want that to keep going," she said.
"We're a family. Not just Erienne (Barry), Nichole and myself, a lot of other girls play club together so we know our strength, we know our weakness, we know how to play together and I think that's what's helping us right now."
That and the rabid support from their fans, which the program is hoping to see out in force two more times this weekend, even if they have to travel a bit further than their home gym or even Elmhurst.
I bet they'll be there Friday wearing their orange. After all, it's a Saint thing.