The Lake Park boys volleyball team had played in a sectional final the last three seasons -- but each time, the Lancers had fallen short of advancing to the state's Elite Eight.
So when hard-hitting Elk Grove pounded out a 25-18 victory in the first game Tuesday night at Elgin, it was starting to look like the fourth time wouldn't be the charm for the Lancers.
"A lot of teams might have folded at that point," said first-year coach Tim Murphy, a 1998 alum of Lake Park. "Not these guys. They've been working together as a team all year, and when you do that, spectacular things can happen."
Spectacular things like a stirring, match-winning rally.
The Lancers, behind a tremendous defensive effort in the final two games, overcame the top-seeded Grens 18-25, 25-22, 25-22 to win the Elgin sectional.
Lake Park moves on to play Barrington, a two-game winner over Zion-Benton, at 6 p.m. Friday at Hoffman Estates in the state quarterfinals.
"This is amazing," said Lake Park senior outside hitter Brian Fischer, who had a team-high 11 kills. "I can't even put into words how awesome it is."
The Lancers' win overshadowed a stellar performance by Elk Grove seniors Aaron Kraus and Michal Kawa, one of the state's top hitting tandems.
Kraus and Kawa finished with 19 and 14 kills, respectively.
"I'm really proud of the kids tonight," said Elk Grove coach Dan Windholz, whose team finished one of the program's best-ever seasons at 31-8. "They left everything they had on the floor.
"These guys are the best team I've ever had -- not only talent wise, but also character wise. They're great kids, and I'm going to miss our seniors."
Elk Grove started the match on fire from the service line. The Grens served 6 of their 8 aces in game 1, including 3 from Matt McKenna.
But falling behind didn't faze the second-seeded Lancers.
"They believed in themselves," said Murphy of his team. "They never let down."
"After the first game, our coach told us that we'd been through adversity before, and we just had to overcome it," said Lake Park senior libero Pasquale Maranto (9 digs), whose prowess on serve receive was instrumental. "We held it together and got it going in the second game."
The Lancers broke open set two late to tie the match. Game 3 was deadlocked at 19-19 when Lake Park gave the Grens a dose of their own medicine from the service line.
Sophomore Quin Krisik hit a serve that just tipped over the net to give the Lancers the lead for good.
"We were prepared for their jump-serving," said Windholz, "but in the second and third game they started floating some serves and that kept us off balance."
Two late kills by Fischer and a block kill from Lake Park sophomore opposite Shawn Fritsche helped close out the match.
Senior setter Dave Prentis had 26 assists for the Lancers while James Proctor pitched in with 15 digs.
"We're excited to be moving on," said Fritsche, who also stated that the Lancers never focused on the sectional losses of the last three years.
"Not at all," said the sophomore. "We were more concerned about coming out and playing our game."