Like a slugger in baseball, the Naperville North girls volleyball team was going to take its hacks Tuesday night. Either the Huskies would go down swinging, or they would make enough great contact to come out on top.
Fortunately for second-seeded Naperville North (34-4) it was the latter, and all the big swinging led the way to a 25-23, 14-25, 25-22 victory over No. 3 Plainfield North in the second of two sectional semifinals played at Plainfield South. With the thrilling win the Huskies advance to Thursday's sectional title match against No. 1 Benet, which needed three games itself before holding off Waubonsie Valley.
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"We just kept swinging away," said Naperville North senior Emily Mankowski, whose match-high 13th kill ended Tuesday's long battle. "We didn't start tipping. We just kept swinging away. Swinging away."
And it was not just Mankowski. Megan Wernette also recorded double-digit kills with 10, and senior outside hitter Lexi Turek added 7 kills, including a pair of clutch winners in the decisive third game, as the DuPage Valley Conference champs shook off a Game 2 loss to knock off the Tigers (33-5) a second time this season.
"If I'm going to go out, I'm going out swinging," said Turek, who slammed down a kill for a 20-16 lead in the final game and stomped up and down in celebration following the point. "I'm going to give it my heart, and it worked for a while tonight and I went out and did my job."
Naperville North junior setter Emily Kwak also did her part, playing a superb match to help her team hold off a Plainfield North squad that features Clemson-bound setter Kate Federico and strong rightside Kaitlyn Fischer, who led the Tigers with 12 kills.
Kwak's passing and Ellie Ivancich's defense were steady throughout the night and helped Naperville North push on after the Tigers tied the match at one set apiece.
"Something I think our team has been great at this season is staying composed and not freaking out whenever there's a close game," she said. "Because we do have so many seniors with so much volleyball experience, it helps us to stay strong, trust our skill and know that we can do it."
Plainfield South had to have planted a little doubt as the Tigers closed out Game 2 with an 11-4 run to even things up, but the Huskies started fast in the finale and stayed together when the match got tight down the stretch.
Angela Jurek opened the final game with a kill and a block kill as Naperville North jumped head 3-0 and later led 10-4. Then after Plainfield North closed to within 21-19 following a kill by Allie Lindroth, Jurek and Turek countered with kills that made it 23-19 and set the stage for the Huskies victory.
"We had all of our hitters swinging away," said Naperville North coach Jennifer Urban, who has the team one win away from its first sectional title since 2004. "We knew that we would have to earn quite a few of them in the third set and I was really proud to see the team come together."