It was a dream season, and Glenbard West never wished to wake up.
When it did end, at least the Hilltoppers went down at their hustling, digging, diving best.
Recovering from an inauspicious start, Glenbard West forced a third set before falling to a bigger New Trier team 25-13, 23-25, 25-14 at Saturday's Class 4A Niles West supersectional.
The Hilltoppers' record season fell a win short of what would have been their first state trip since 1983, when Glenbard West won it all.
"The most important thing is we gave it all we had," said Glenbard West senior setter Caleigh Ryan. "There's nothing any one of us could have done better. We should have no regrets."
Ryan sure shouldn't. The embodiment of Glenbard West's grit and determination, the four-year starter had 23 assists and 12 digs. Time and again she laid out for balls ticketed for the floor, turning them back up.
"She's a trooper," Glenbard coach Pete Mastandrea said. "I believe in the kid."
The Hilltoppers faced an uphill climb from the start, in part beyond their control.
New Trier (38-1), whose only loss this year came to Lyons Twp., scored the first 5 points of the match and led 11-1. Shaky serve receive did in Glenbard West, who was aced 6 times in Game 1.
That was fixable. Matched against a much bigger team, there was no remedy for that.
New Trier's 6-foot-3 Virginia-bound middle Haley Fauntelroy had 9 kills and 6 blocks, and the Trevians brought 6-4 sophomore Sarah Shafiq off the bench. Even offensive-minded setter Taylor Tashima stands 6 feet.
"The kid that touches the highest for me is not even in uniform. The second-highest is Meg DeMaar, my libero," Mastandrea said. "How are you gonna block a kid who's 6-4 when they're in system? But we knew that."
"I think we might have been a little intimidated by their size early," Ryan said. "They're a good, aggressive serving team."
Glenbard West (37-3) regrouped midway through the first game and took that momentum into a see-saw Game 2. At 21-20 a dig found its way to Katie Ball, who hit a back-to-the-net one-armed shot that landed just in front of the back line. Moments later, Amanda Perry drove a kill off a block for game point.
New Trier coach Hannah Hsieh, taking her team back to state for the first time since four straight trips from 2003-2006, knew better than to get too high after the one-sided first game.
"We knew Glenbard West was a good team to have the record they have and done well in tight matches," Hsieh said. "We knew they weren't going to roll over."
The third game teeter-tottered early between the two teams, Glenbard West's last lead 6-5. At 8-8 New Trier took command with a 4-0 run. Fauntleroy put down a kill for the lead and another on a slide, Maggie Carragher a kill and Tashima blocked a ball off a Glenbard West player out of bounds for a 12-8 lead.
"After we lost that second game, we knew we weren't going to come back and lose this," said Tashima, like Ryan committed to Northwestern, who had 25 assists and 5 kills. "Our passing settled in and we were able to run our middles."
Perry had 11 kills and 9 digs, Megan Wagner 10 kills and DeMaar 16 digs. Ryan, Perry and Wagner are part of a senior class that leaves quite a legacy. Glenbard West this season won its first West Suburban Silver title since 1984, first regional and sectional crowns since 1985 and set a school record for wins.
"Seven years ago, we couldn't even run a ball control. Every year our seniors have taken our program a step further," Mastandrea said. "We'll be talking about Caleigh Ryan, Amanda Perry, those seniors for a long time."