The celebration that mattered most went off flawlessly.
And there standing in the middle of McHenry's East Campus court with fellow senior captain Allyson Mitchell, without a wobble, was Warren setter Rachel Ziegler. She and Mitchell smiled, cradling the regional championship plaque as parents snapped pictures.
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"We have so much heart and we want it so bad this year," Ziegler, the three-year varsity player, said after the Blue Devils outlasted the host school 31-29, 25-19 to win the Class 4A McHenry regional Thursday night. It was the second regional title in a row for Warren (24-13), which will play Huntley in Tuesday's 6 p.m. sectional semifinal at Belvidere North.
"We won it last year," Ziegler added, "and just to repeat is so good."
The title sure eased the pain in Ziegler's right ankle.
After an exhilarating opening set, McHenry (13-23) built a 5-0 lead in the second. The Warriors' athletic, jump-serving Zoe Lindsey then saw her bid for a third ace slam into the net.
Warren's Blue Devils got excited, as volleyball girls do. But their celebration quickly turned to sorrow, as Ziegler crumpled to the court, holding her right ankle.
"We were so into it and celebrating," Ziegler said. "I just totally rolled it."
Loren Frericks and Lindsey Biedron helped their injured leader to the bench.
"I was freaking out," Mitchell said of Ziegler's injury. "I was praying to God, hoping that she could come back strong. I know she plays with her heart so I knew she could pull it off."
Mitchell's 2 aces and Frericks block helped Warren pull within 5-4, but McHenry rebuilt its advantage and went up 12-6 on an ace by hard-hitting middle Becca Dabrowski.
"We lost our setter in the second game and then we fell apart for a little bit," Mitchell said. "But then we realized that we needed to pull it together because we wanted it so bad."
After getting her ankle treated on the bench, Ziegler returned to the court in time to help Warren rally. Two of Mitchell's 6 kills helped even the score at 16-16. Ziegler pushed a kill to the back row to make it 18-18, and Biedron's block gave the Blue Devils the lead for good at 19-18.
Then with another regional championship looking likely, Warren sophomore Jenna Walczak took over. The 6-footer delivered three straight kills, including a deft underhanded shot that McHenry couldn't dig. It was the 11th kill for Walczak, who hit 20 of 20. The Greenville College-bound Mitchell then served an ace to end it and set off a match-winning celebration.
"It's really hurting," Ziegler, who dished out 9 assists, said of her ankle afterward. "But the adrenaline just kicked in, and it's my senior year. I am not going to let that (ankle injury) stop me. So I got back out there."
Warren had faced deficits of 6-1 and 24-20 in the opening set. Walczak accounted for 4 of Warren's final 10 points thanks to kills, before a McHenry error snapped a 29-29 tie.
"We knew that No. 8 (Lindsey) was a good topspin server," Warren coach Julie Filippo said. "Once we got past her, it was game on. Both teams played fantastic."