Tense faces on the court turned to big smiles afterward for the Glenbard South girls volleyball team as it prevailed over Lyons Twp. 17-25, 25-19, 25-23 in the first semifinal of the Class 4A Morton sectional on Tuesday night in Berwyn.
But what was the key for the top-seeded Raiders (32-6) to shake off a very flat performance in the opening game and win the last two against the fifth-seeded Lions (22-16)?
The team started to talk.
"It was just communication and energy all around," said sophomore Sydney Bauman, who with senior Tarah Valdez, led the victors with 11 kills each. "This is unbelievable and amazing. I love the playoffs."
Next for Glenbard South is Thursday's sectional final against No. 3 seed Oak Park-River Forest, a three-game winner over Downers Grove North in the second semifinal Tuesday. The Raiders did not face the Huskies during the regular season.
A victory Thursday would give Glenbard South its first sectional title in girls volleyball and would tie the school record for wins.
When the Lions' Cori Hansen served up an ace in the final game to increase her team's lead to 22-15, it looked like Lyons had the match wrapped up.
Glenbard South's Alex LaPonte smashed a kill to make it 22-16 and give her team a crucial chance to get back into the game, and the Raiders made the most of it.
A kill by Valdez and a block by Bauman and LaPonte put their team close at 22-20, and Lyons called a timeout to try and cool things off.
It didn't work. Kills by Valdez tied it at 22 before a kill by the Lions' Lindsey Oettel gave her team their final lead of the night at 23-22 and the volleyball back.
LaPonte's kill on Lyons' first serve attempt made it another deadlock and Taylor Carli took over serving. A kill by Valdez and an illegal hit by the Lions were the finishing touches on the Raiders' trip to the sectional final.
"We just helped each other and we each believed in one another," Valdez said. "Coach (Chad Grant) believed in us all the way. He's seen us come back."
In the opening game, the Lions jumped out to a 19-9 and were never seriously threatened. The Raiders pushed aside that performance and led all of Game 2. Lyons' hitting errors toward the end secured the comfortable margin of victory.
"I think it was nerves in that first set. We were struggling to pass the ball. But once we started, things were different," Grant said.