Stevenson outside hitter Liza Pflugradt summed it up well.
"When we play a great team, it just makes us play better," said the 6-foot Jacksonville State-bound senior after a battle between two of the top Daily Herald girls volleyball teams on Monday night.
Sure enough, every time Hersey (8-3) appeared to be making a winning move in both sets, Stevenson (11-1) smartly answered the call with quality play of its own.
And when Khalia Donaldson put down back-to-back kills for the match's final 2 points, the Patriots had held off the host Huskies 25-22, 25-23 at the Ken Carter Gymnasium in Arlington Heights.
"We were just stepping up and working hard," said Donaldson, a junior who made the Hersey defense work as she put down a match-high 7 kills with 2 aces and 9 digs. "The key was a positive approach. If someone shanked it, we just pushed hard to the next point."
Stevenson seemed pointed to a comfortable win in Set 1 when a tip by Pflugradt, set up by a diving dig by libero Elizabeth Shancer, made it 20-13 in favor of the Pats.
"Our libero is incredible," said Pflugradt, who had 4 kills and 3 aces. "She moves her feet so well, and reads the hitters so well so she can make a good pass for us to put it down."
But Hersey senior Abby Fesl got the Huskies up and rolling with 6 consecutive service points, including 3 aces, for a 20-20 tie.
"Abby served a ton," said Hersey coach Nancy Lill about her standout senior setter headed to Northern Florida. "She was going after them and she kept us in the sets with her service runs."
Another nice save by Shancer (10 digs) led to a kill by junior Kara Maleski to give the visitors (11-1) a 23-21 lead in Set 1. Hersey got to within 24-22 on a kill by Courtney Stedman (4 kills) before Northern Illinois-bound Jenna Radtke (5 kills) drilled the game winner to the middle of the floor off a set from senior Anne Geocaris (13 assists).
Stevenson led 20-16 in Set 2 when Fesl's 4 straight service points got the Huskies back into the game again. A kill by senior Anna Mullen-Muhr tied it at 20.
"Had we capitalized more on our points, it would have been a different outcome," Fesl said. "When we got our serves in and out hitters put the ball down, we played great. Stevenson is a really great opponent. This helps us a lot to see what we must work on."
Fesl, who had 3 kills and 3 blocks, distributed 15 assists, using Gabriella Olhava (6 kills) and Mullen-Muhr (4) as her top two targets.
Those two attackers also came up with 6 and 4 blocks, respectively, while Erica Hill had 2 blocks with 2 kills.
"They (Hersey) are the only team outside of New Trier (in a two-set loss last week) that out-blocked us, so that was a good job by Hersey," said Pats coach Tim Crow, who also received 8 digs and 6 assists from junior Alexa Bykowski. "Both teams struggled at serve receive.
"It was great to pull out each set in pressure situations. I was disappointed that we made some weak decisions, but Hersey is a great team. Every time we play them it's a tight and exciting match, so we expect this."
Lill, who needs 11 wins to reach 800 for her career, expects her young team to keep learning.
"Our younger players have to keep getting experience," said Lill, whose back row was led by Taylor Schill (11 digs) and Allie Mueller (8). "These are the kind of matches you love to play in because they show you where you need to be.
"We had some great runs but our goal was to eliminate giving up easy points and we had a lot of unforced errors. And our serve receive was off."