It was a happy birthday Wednesday for Waubonsie Valley boys volleyball coach Al Lagger.
The coach and his Warriors had plenty to celebrate after defeating defending state champion Wheaton Warrenville South 20-25, 25-22, 25-20 to win the Waubonsie Valley regional championship.
It was the first regional championship for the Warriors (14-20) since 2005, and it was the first time in their 15 years under coach Bill Schreier that the Tigers (18-20) came up short of winning a regional title. The Tigers have won seven state championships since 2001.
The Warriors were led for the second night in a row by Michael Simmons with 16 kills, but against the Tigers, others stepped up to share the scoring load.
Connor Douville and Jon Pyne had 11 kills each and setter Spencer Rhodes distributed the ball to a variety of hitters for 50 assists.
"We're coming together at the right time of the year," Lagger said. "It feels great to be going on to sectional."
The Warriors will face Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division rival Neuqua Valley at Proviso West in Friday's sectional semifinals.
"This feels really terrific," said Waubonsie's Tyler House. "We had a tough start to the season, but now we're finding our rhythm and executing as we should."
While Tuesday's win over St. Francis was a study in crisp, fundamentally strong volleyball, the regional final was a lot less elegant with both teams committing numerous errors.
But the Warriors were pleased that the victory showed they could win any kind of game, and that with Simmons in the lineup after missing much of the season with injuries, they are for real and everyone is stepping up.
"We got our middles involved," Simmons said. "Guys like Connor and Tyler were amazing, and Spencer did a great job of spreading the ball around. Our passing was good and everyone did well. We did miss a lot of serves."
"We knew they would key on Michael," Lagger said. "So it was huge that the middles stepped up when we needed them. After losing the first set, we knew that if we could get the win in the second set, anything could happen in the third. And the guys played great in that third set. Jon Pyne is more relaxed and playing like the outstanding player he is."
In the third set the Warriors trailed 16-12, when they again showed that ability to fight back from deficits that has been nurtured by special "come-from-behind" drills in practice.
They tied it at 17-17 and then pulled ahead on a 5-point run with Simmons at the service line.
The Warriors were aided late in the set by a series of Wheaton Warrenville South unforced errors.
"We made a ton of errors in sets two and three," Schreier said. "At this juncture of the season, it's both inexcusable and frustrating. We missed serves, hit the ball out of bounds and missed by so much that we didn't even have the opportunity to make a play. We're 38 matches into the season. You can't say we're inexperienced anymore."
The Tigers were led by Jared Wilcox with 10 kills and Richie Planek with 7.