Having swept through their first 4 postseason matches, St. Charles North's boys volleyball team faced the brink of elimination during Friday night's state quarterfinal match against Oak Park-River Forest.
Trailing 22-21 in the decisive third set, the North Stars (31-6) scored 3 of the next 4 points to take a 24-23 lead.
After the Huskies (20-19) fought off a pair of match points to force a 25-25 deadlock, the North Stars received a tip kill from senior co-captain Zach Ziesmer to give St. Charles North a 26-25 lead.
Moments later, an Oak Park lift violation set off a wild celebratory scene in front of the North Stars' student section following St. Charles North's 25-22, 24-26, 27-25 victory at Hoffman Estates High School.
"My word of the week was composure," said North Stars coach Todd Weimer. "They kept their composure the entire match. It was nerve-wracking at times but I just knew we had to get into a situation where we had to score a couple more points."
Ziesmer's precision kill helped set the stage for the North Stars' most important triumph of the season.
"Normally I like to swing hard and really straight on that one but their setter was smart," said Ziesmer. "He made a great play to get on the block. Luckily I saw him in the corner of my eye and saw four hands (blocking) instead of two. I flipped it back just like the coach had prepared us for."
Jonathan Orech (15 kills) and fellow senior Kevin Beach (11 kills) spearheaded the North Stars' attack, while Ryan Dal Degan (14 digs), Beach (8 digs) and Pat Misiewicz (38 assists, 7 digs) paced the defensive effort.
"Defensively, the last four games leading up to this one was the best we've played all year," said Dal Degan. "Tonight, it was a little bit choppier than we would've liked but we worked it out."
Led by Sam Rolfes (16 kills), Ryan Ebersole (15 kills) and Jared Bernard (13 kills), the Huskies turned it into a marathon match by pulling out the Game 2 victory and made things interesting down the stretch in Game 3.
"When we got to deuce at 25-25 (in Game 3), we felt like we were ahead because we've been through a lot of these games," said Huskies coach Don August. "We just couldn't pull out this one.
"There wasn't a lot of difference (between the teams)," added August. "The kills were pretty even and the serves were pretty equal. Blocking (11-4 edge for STC North) was maybe the only difference."
The match featured several scintillating digs, powerful kills and long rallies.
"They seemed to win the ones that mattered," admitted Ebersole.
The North Stars also received a big lift from senior Jack Bujko (5 kills, 2 blocks), who entered the match midway through Game 2 after the Huskies built a 12-6 lead.
"I thought Bujko gave us a nice little lift in set two," said Weimer. "He had not been playing much as of late and it's nothing against him. He's a great player but we've just had a great lineup that has been rolling well. But we felt like we needed a little better blocker and some new fire."
With the win, the North Stars will face a quick turnaround with a late morning showdown against Downers Grove South (29-10) in Saturday's semifinals.
"That shouldn't be a problem for us," Orech said of his team's lack of rest. "We're an athletic team."
"They (the Mustangs) might be big but we're super excited to play them," said Weimer.