As they say, in high school volleyball anything can happen in the postseason, and Tuesday produced the first big upset of the tournament as the regional host and No. 15 seed Waubonsie Valley knocked off the No. 3-seeded St. Francis 25-15, 28-26.
But the regional semifinal result wasn't that much of a surprise, because the Warriors' Michael Simmons, one of the best players in the state, was back in the lineup and at full strength after missing most of the season with stress fractures in his foot and shin.
And Simmons -- who had a match-high 16 kills, 10 service points with 5 aces and 4 digs -- was clearly the difference.
Simmons played the last few regular-season matches for the Warriors (13-20), but he really showed the dynamic skills against the Spartans (26-10) that made him an all-state pick last year and a preseason candidate for Illinois Player of the Year.
"We got Michael back at the right time," said Waubonsie Valley coach Al Lagger. "We're a whole different team when he's in there. He makes everyone else better and more confident. This is the best we played all year."
"It adds a totally different dimension when he's playing for them," said St. Francis coach Mike Lynch.
Simmons said he felt good Tuesday but emphasized how well the entire Warriors team played against the Spartans.
"We were blocking really well, our serve-reserve was amazing," Simmons said. "With this win anything is possible for us."
The Warriors led by a few points in most of the early going in the first set, and it was 17-13 after a sideout put Simmons at the service line.
He rattled off six straight points, including a trio of aces to put the set away.
"It felt great to be able contribute from the back line," Simmons said. "I felt good serving. The ball was tailing away from everyone."
In the second set St. Francis led most of the way, but the Warriors went ahead 21-20, again with Simmons at the service line.
Then it was a seesaw battle to 26-26, when an ace by Andrew Salmon and a kill by Simmons ended the match and sent the Warriors to Wednesday's regional final against Wheaton Warrenville South.
"You could see in practices and in matches that we're getting better with Michael back in the lineup," Lagger said. "Our other guys are playing better and more relaxed. We had a really good night blocking tonight."
Tim Williams and Tyler House had 5 blocks apiece. Salmon and Mike Nicholas came up with 5 digs each.
Greg Churney led the Spartans in kills with 10 and Pat Flood had 8. Robert Smith had 3 blocks and 24 assists. Alex Shulski had 5 digs.
"Our sectional has a lot of parity," Lynch said. "And you have to really be up to beat a team like Waubonsie Valley. Tonight we didn't passel well, so we couldn't run our offense when we needed to."