Brie Isaacson already knew a competitive spirit burned inside Sammy Condon.
But she'd never seen this fiery side of her senior middle.
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"I saw her looking at me and she said, 'Give me the ball,'" the Naperville Central coach said, "and I knew we were going to be OK. She's a competitor and feisty, but I've never seen her say what she said tonight. It was up a notch."
The Redhawks needed it.
In a rare matchup with Naperville North this early in the playoffs, the Redhawks pulled through late in both sets for a barnburner of a 25-22, 29-27 win in the Class 4A Naperville Central regional semifinal.
Down 21-19 in a first set where the biggest spread was 3 points, Naperville Central (28-8) got back-to-back blocks from Condon to nudge ahead 22-21, and a pair of Condon slide kills got the Redhawks to set point. In the second set Condon's kill tied it up 25-25, as the Redhawks turned away three Naperville North set points.
"I was just feeling good. When I'm feeling good, I want the ball," said Condon, shrugging off the thought of any added incentive. "With my team anything was possible tonight."
Isaacson knew better. Condon struggled to find the court in the third set of a loss to Naperville North a week ago. This time, she seemed to be hitting the ball with bad intentions.
"She had her own little personal agenda tonight," Isaacson said.
Naperville North (27-10), which had to survive a tough match with Neuqua Valley Monday, hardly packed it up in the second set of this, the two teams' fourth meeting of the year.
The Huskies trailed 11-5 and later 18-13 but came all the way back to tie it 18-18 on a Corinne Gajcak kill and eventually pulled ahead 22-20. That final push to the finish proved elusive.
"I'm so proud of the way we played tonight," Huskies coach Jennifer Urban said. "We just needed to make a couple more plays to pull out both sets."
Naperville Central, which coughed up third-set leads in losses to West Aurora and Naperville North the last two weeks, may have exorcised a few of those demons Tuesday.
The Redhawks blew the 18-13 lead, but a kill by Maddie Siambekos and a pair by Alysia Baznik staved off Naperville North's set points. At 27-27 Baznik drove home her 15th kill of the night, and on the ensuing point the Huskies spiked a back-row attack into the net.
Thoughts of those recent losses weren't far from Isaacson, who saw the silver lining in them.
"You just hope that when that happens that the next time you are better prepared for it," Isaacson said. "I told the kids after the match that it's worth it as long as we learned a lesson from it. I think tonight in both sets we showed that we did.
"When we were up 18-13, I never felt comfortable," she added. "I never did until that last point. Naperville North just played a fantastic match."
Carly Wesolowski had 9 digs and 2 aces, including set point in the first for Naperville Central. Gajcak had 10 kills, Angela Jurek 9, Megan Wernette 7, Colleen Larson 7 digs and Emily Kwak 27 assists for Naperville North, which does return six players who saw action Tuesday night.
"Our senior leaders definitely provided the girls with role models," Urban said. "Hopefully, those younger girls will use that in the years to come."