On a night celebrated by many for strange and scary occurrences, St. Charles North received a scare of its own by a feisty Wheaton North team at the Class 4A South Elgin regional championship game.
Fortunately for the No. 2 seeded North Stars, the nightmare amounted to merely a scary dream, and they defeated the upset-minded No. 7 Falcons to advance to the Geneva sectional on Tuesday against St. Charles East.
The North Stars won 25-18, 24-26 and 26-24, but both teams found itself digging down deep.
North Star libero Alex Seavey (18 service points) said she and her teammates have made a commitment to being able to come back.
"It feels amazing," Seavey said. "We really worked hard for it, so it's a great feeling. Our focus all year has been on being resilient and coming back after we've been down. We've come back to win a lot this year, and we knew when we were down that if we wanted to come back and win that we would have to dig down deeper than we ever did before."
North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins thought that the pregame inspirational video helped the team focus during the challenging stretch.
"We watched a really inspirational video before we came here today," Hawkins said. "It was about a girl who fell on the track during a race, but came back to win it. Today was all about belief. We talked about believing that we could win and believing that we're a good team. This team really held together despite the adversity. We know everybody is going to play their best match during regionals and sectionals, so it's just about fighting back and believing."
The North Stars closed out the first set with 5 straight points, the last 4 served by Seavey.
Things became strange for the North Stars just as they seemed ready to close out the match after scoring their 24th point. Leading 24-17 after scoring consecutive points on a kill and block by Daley Krage, Falcons outside hitter Grace Tiesman blocked an attempted spike that appeared destined for the game-winner. Tiesman then stepped in to serve and secured the next 8 points for a come-from-behind victory to even the match at 1-1.
Things didn't start out great for the North Stars in the third set either, as kills by Tiesman and captain Maddie Hutchinson helped the Falcons score the first 7 points of the third set on the way to an early 10-2 lead.
Seavey came to the rescue for the North Stars, scoring four straight ace serves on her way to earning 8 consecutive points to tie the set 10-10. Taylor Krage (13 kills) provided two kills and a key block to earn a point on a volley that lasted several minutes.
"At this point in the playoffs, everybody is playing well and nobody wants to lose," Krage said. "Once it got to the third set, we knew it was do or die. We've always credited this team on being resilient, and I think we proved that coming back from being down 10-2 in the third set."
From that point on, the set bounce back and forth with each of the heavyweight teams trading points. Trailing 20-19, with Seavey serving once again, Taylor Krage sparked the North Stars with a kill to tie the set 20-20. Seavey took the North Stars to 23-20, but the Falcons scored 4 of the next 5 points to knot the score at 24-24. A powerful kill by Taylor Krage, and a block by Emily Carroll and Jaclyn Taylor finally gave the North Stars the victory and the regional title.
Setter Sydney Wohlert (9 assists) realized it was her job to get the offense back in sync and attacking.
"We're kind of known this year for being resilient and coming back," Wohlert said. "It's time to feed the people who are hungry for the ball. Obviously, Taylor (Krage) wanted the ball tonight, so I gave it to her as often as I could."
Falcons coach Carole Kristensen knew it was going to be quite a hurdle for her team to get past St. Charles North, but she commended her team for their effort and resiliency.
"These girls trust and buy into each other," Kristensen said. "They have a mission. They speak and follow through with what they say they're going to do. We knew St. Charles was going to come back because they're a great team. Maddie (Hutchinson) was outstanding tonight. She's a team captain; she's all-conference; she's wonderful. Maddie has been huge this year. She's been a great leader and the kids look up to her. She has a calmness about her that just settles people down."
Playing in her final volleyball game for the Falcons, senior Hutchinson (11 kills) tried her best to will her team to victory, but as she reflected back on her high school career, she was proud to achieve her goal help build Wheaton North volleyball into a strong program.
"It was definitely a will," Hutchinson said. "We wanted to win it, and we knew that it wasn't a maybe, it wasn't a can, it was a will. Even though we didn't come out with a victory tonight, I am so proud of our team. It was a personal victory (for us). For me, personally, we've been waiting for this year to come around. We (the team) have been playing together for the past four years and talking about being the ultimate team and winning a regional. We came up second, but I'm so proud of this team because we always talked about how we wanted to change the Wheaton North record. We wanted to make a name for Wheaton North and I think we accomplished that this year."