McKenna Kelsay cried tears of joy and rushed into a proud hug from her dad.
Another classic St. Francis-Joliet Catholic match, and it didn't disappoint.
St. Francis turned away two match points and Joliet Catholic four, the Spartans surviving for a 25-15, 24-26, 30-28 victory in front of a huge, raucous crowd at Thursday's Class 3A Glenbard South sectional final.
It is the seventh straight year the two schools met in the playoffs. St. Francis (34-5) has won four of those meetings, including the last two, and advances to play Chicago Christian in a 6 p.m. supersectional Saturday at Chicago Christian. St. Francis twice beat Chicago Christian this season.
Allow Kelsay and her teammates to celebrate this one first.
"Both teams played amazing. Each of us left it on the court," said Kelsay, the Spartans' setter and only senior starter Thursday. "We just found a way to control it at the end."
St. Francis' win was its 11th straight since a three-game loss to Joliet Catholic (32-7) at the Asics Challenge. Finishing three-game matches was a challenge for a young, evolving Spartans team throughout the year.
They found a way Thursday.
Up a game and at match point leading 24-23 in the second, St. Francis watched Joliet Catholic score 3 straight points to force a third. The Spartans led in the third 14-9 and later 19-18 but moments later found themselves staring at a 23-21 deficit.
A long Angels serve and a block by the 5-foot-7 Kelsay knotted the score at 23-23, and it was back and forth from there.
Finally, at 28-28 Maddie Haggerty pounded home her 12th kill to give the Spartans serve. There, junior Kristin Acciavatti slammed a spike that was touched twice. A desperation dig from Joliet Catholic's Morgan Reardon couldn't quite make it back over the net.
"It could have gone either way," Joliet Catholic coach Chris Scheibe said. "We had the 23-21 lead and needed to serve it in the court. After Game 1 I thought we played about as well as we could."
St. Francis coach Peg Kopec appreciated how her young kids handled a high-pressure situation.
"A lot of composure," she said, "and a senior setter. Our belief, our composure and our steady play was the bottom line. Different girls stepped up at different times. Kristin, for not having played much this year, played incredible."
It helped to have a freshman who plays nothing like a freshman.
Freshman Molly Haggerty unleashed a power display that Joliet Catholic had no answer for throughout, throwing down 18 kills. Haggerty had a kill for set point in the first, put down 11 in the second game and her final one turned away an Angels match point in the third to tie it 26-26.
"She played out of her mind," said Kelsay, who had 30 assists. "I have so much confidence in her."
"It was open the whole time," Haggerty shrugged off. "I was just hitting line. That was basically it."
Reardon, who had 25 kills for Joliet Catholic in the teams' earlier meeting had 16 Thursday -- 7 in the third game. Kelsay noted that her team has come a long way since that first match.
"We were still trying to figure a lot of things out, we were running different offenses, had different people in difference places," Kelsay said. "We realized what our flow needed to be. We flowed pretty well today."
"We pulled through at the end," Haggerty said. "It's a great win for us. We did this for our seniors."