It was nervous time for regional host Hersey at Ken Carter Gymnasium in Arlington Heights.
In the deciding game of the regional final Wednesday, the Huskies had run out to an virtually insurmountable 22-12 lead in their quest for a big upset victory over state-ranked Glenbrook North.
Then sixth-seeded Hersey watched almost helplessly as the Spartans staged an impossible rally, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to close the gap to 24-23.
"When we were up 10," said Huskies middle blocker Jordan Saeed, "all I kept thinking was 'Just get 3 more points.' "
"Doubt," added the junior, "never entered our mind."
And with the large crowd on its feet in a fever pitch, and North poised to tie the match, junior Mike Fuerst put down one of the biggest kills in the storied history of the Hersey program.
The 6-foot-7 middle blocker's final spike, his 10th kill of the match, completed a 25-23, 18-25, 25-23 win over a team that was runner-up in state last season and ranked No. 1 earlier this year.
"What a great match," said jubilant Hersey coach Nancy Lill. "This just shows what these guys are capable of.
"We've had a rollercoaster season, some high points and some low points -- but what character, poise and determination they showed tonight."
Hersey overcame an early 5-0 deficit to win the first set behind the hitting of sophomore Bart Migus (12 kills), but the Huskies were their own worst enemy in set two.
Hersey hit 4 serves and 2 kill attempts into the net and knocked several balls wide and long as the Spartans tied things up.
"We haven't been playing that well all season," said junior setter Matt Torvik, who finished with 25 assists. "But tonight, we brought it when we needed to bring it. We wanted this badly."
In the deciding set, Saeed recorded big block after big block as the Huskies looked to take all the suspense out of the finale.
But the Spartans kept chipping away, and even after a Fuerst kill put Hersey ahead 24-20, North scored the next 3 points to put them on the doorstep.
Then the big hit from Fuerst in the middle closed things out and the Huskies were hoisting the regional championship plaque.
"This team is never say die," said Saeed, who gave possibly his top effort of the season with 5 clutch blocks. "If we bring the energy that we brought tonight, we can beat anyone."
Junior libero Fotis Christacos had 21 digs for the home team,Torvik added 10 digs, Kevin Schroeder was 13-of-14 from the service line, while sophomore Kevin Messer helped lead the third-game run with 10-for-10 serving.
Next up for Hersey is Loyola, which topped visiting St. Viator in two games Wednesday, in a 6:30 p.m. sectional semifinal at Niles West. The other sectional semifinal features Maine South against Glenbrook South at 5 p.m.
"Glenbrook North is a great team and a great program," said Lill. "I give them all the credit in the world, but we really put everything together tonight."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.