In order to attend a rehearsal for his brother's wedding, Palatine girls volleyball coach Dan Gavin was not at Thursday's match against visiting Fremd.
Instead, Joyce Richardson, who directed the program nine years ago, was back in charge.
"To me, it as just like an Old Home Week," said Richardson, now the Pirates' junior varsity coach. "Just in a bigger setting."
The setting was big -- a chance for Palatine to tie for first place in the Mid-Suburban West -- and the Pirates came up big.
With Dayton-bound Taylor Fricano putting down a match-high 7 kills and junior Hannah Bridier serving 3 aces with 2 blocks, the Pirates (9-3, 4-1) endured two tough sets to post a 25-23, 25-21 victory over visiting Fremd (10-4, 3-1).
It was a homecoming of sorts for the Pirates players, too, who were coached by Richardson on the underlevel.
"We love her," said senior Cassie Chaplinsky, whose kill gave the Pirates their biggest lead in Set 1 at 16-10. "She has so much energy. She rocks."
Fremd started to roll in Set 1 and pulled into ties at 17, 18, 19 and 20 before nudging ahead 21-20 when Fricano put down a kill of an overpass of her own attack.
A kill from Fremd's Claire Brady off a quick set from Marilyn Lortz tied the set at 22. Brady's block knotted the score at 23 before Palatine got the final 2 points on a kill by Chaplinsky and hitting error by Fremd.
Palatine defeated Fremd in three sets two weeks ago for fifth place in the Early Bird Invite.
"I think that made us play ever harder because we know how hard to is to beat a team twice," Chaplinsky said. "We came out with a lot of energy and played together as a team. No one had the hiccups."
No one played better defense for the Pirates than senior Cayla Kendzior, who collected 4 digs.
"I think that is one of Cayla's best defensive matches," Richardson added. "I'm really proud of how she played. She struggled a little the last few matches but she really came out and showed she's one of the best middle backers in the MSL."
Senior Casey Dolen led Palatine with 5 digs while seniors Sarah Schiffner (9 assists) and Alex Heidrich (5) handled the setting chores.
The second set was tied at 18-18 when a kill by Fricano gave Palatine the lead for good. The senior then put down a pair of aces for a 21-18 lead.
"It was by far one of the best matches Taylor has played," Richardson said. "She started to get her timing down."
A kill by senior Val Soderstrom (3 kills) gave Palatine match point at 24-20 and moments later the senior outside hitter put down the match-winner off a set from Schiffner.
It gave Richardson her first varsity coaching win since 2003.
"We told her we were all ready for her to coach us," Kendzior said. "Because we love her motivation and energy."
"It's a good group of girls," Richardson said. "They just need a little more confidence knowing that they can take control of things all the time."
Controlling the Fremd attack were sophomore Lane Hindenburg (6 kills), Brady (6) and Nicole Obos (4), who took their cues from Lortz (22 assists). Teammate Nina Scott was 13-of-14 serve receiving.
"I think Palatine played just a little more consistent than we did," said Vikes coach Curt Pinley. "They continued to keep pressure on us and we didn't answer it as well as we have been. We'll go back to the drawing board."
Gavin will be drawing up the Pirates' plays again next week.
"We were going against a head coach who was back after nine years and she did a great job," Pinley said. "Hats off to Joyce."