Colleen Larson knew not to expect a cakewalk going into a rematch with Naperville Central.
And Neuqua Valley sure didn't make things easy on Naperville North on Monday.
The underdog, short-handed Wildcats pressed Larson and the Huskies to the finish before succumbing 26-24, 25-22 in first-round action at the Class 4A Naperville Central regional.
"We expected a tough match out of them," said Larson, the Huskies' senior libero. "It's the postseason, no matter what everyone is going to go out there playing their hardest every single point. Nobody wants to lose."
Naperville North (27-9), which advances to play Naperville Central tonight, found itself chasing Neuqua (17-19) the entire first set. The Huskies never led until the end and were facing set point down 24-23. Corinne Gajcak's kill off a block got Naperville North back serve, Gajcak dropped in a tip kill for the Huskies' first lead at 25-24 and they took set point on a Wildcats net violation.
"I thought we were on our heels that whole first set," Huskies coach Jennifer Urban said. "It was good for us to find a way to win and then come back."
Naperville North was seemingly in control up 15-10 in the second, but Neuqua answered with a 7-0 run, grabbing a 17-15 lead on a Jenna Marquez ace. Neuqua tied it for the last time at 21-21 on back-to-back Jenna Dunckel kills, before Becky Welch gave Naperville North the lead for good with a kill off an overpass. Welch's fifth kill after a Gajcak ace gave her team a hard-earned match point.
Gajcak had 7 kills, 5 digs and 2 aces, Emily Kwak 17 assists and Larson 8 digs for the Huskies.
"I thought Neuqua played a great match. They played some inspired volleyball," Urban said. "We knew they would play well. They've had an up-and-down season, but their record does not indicate how good of a team they are."
Neuqua coach Kelly Simon has loved the attitude of this team from the start this season and did so all the way to the end. The Wildcats lost top hitter Taylor McKeown to a broken foot a month ago but hardly seemed ready to fold in the tent Monday.
Brooke Antenen had 7 kills and 11 assists, Allie Clarke 8 kills, Kacie Florek 11 assists and Marquez 6 digs for Neuqua.
"We've encountered a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of close matches that ended up in losses," Simon said, "the injuries -- just all kinds of things. They've never looked better than they have all week in practice, and tonight. We feel that this is the best we've played by far all season. I couldn't have asked for anything more."
No rest for Naperville North, which tonight plays Naperville Central for the fourth time this season. The Huskies dropped the first two matches but won a three-setter last week.
"We just have to execute," Urban said. "That's what it's going to come down to."
In Monday's first match Downers Grove South rallied to beat Downers Grove North 15-25, 25-17, 25-22. Kristy LaRue had 11 kills, Kirsten Zemke 5 and Danielle Conrad 12 assists and 10 digs for the Mustangs (22-14), who advance to play top seed Benet tonight.
"It's my senior year, my team really wanted it -- there was a lot of passion that we put into that match," LaRue said. "This could have been our last match, and against our cross-town rivals. I didn't want it to end like this."