As much talent as the top four teams in the Class 4A Geneva girls volleyball sectional possess, a little home cooking never hurts.
Geneva got to play on its home court Tuesday night in the first semifinal and the Vikings made the most of that homecourt advantage. The No. 4 seeded Vikings never trailed against No. 1 Glenbard West in the first game, then led for almost all of the second game for a 25-20, 25-21 win.
"They helped so much," Geneva libero Kelsey Wicinski said of the home fans. "We knew this was going to be a tough game. We had to show them how we could play."
The win ensured a Tri-Cities team will be playing Saturday night in the Class 4A St. Charles East supersectional with a shot of advancing to next week's state tournament. It will be either Geneva (28-9) or No. 2 seed St. Charles North (31-5) who will meet for the sectional title at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Vikings avenged a loss to Glenbard West (34-4) in last year's sectional championship and also a three-game loss to the Hilltoppers earlier this year that came down to a 32-30 third game.
"You come into this environment, it's a tough road game for us," Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea said. "We're the 1 seed. This is a road game and we go into a hostile environment. Our kids got forced into some errors which was probably the difference."
Geneva freshman Ally Barrett put away a kill on the first point of the match and fellow freshman Grace Loberg blasted a kill on the second point to quickly show nerves weren't going to be a factor. Those two combined for 8 kills in the opening game.
"They have come a long ways (this year) and they started at a pretty good spot," Geneva coach KC Johnsen said.
Hannah Lanasa aced Glenbard West for a 3-0 lead, one that quickly ballooned to 15-8 when Barrett sent back a free ball and forced Mastandrea into his second timeout.
"We were really aggressive and we didn't make many errors," Wicinski said. "We knew we were going to play well. We all had that feeling. When we played them last year we didn't play as a team. And today we were just one big team. We played really well together."
Glenbard West pulled within 18-15 when Geneva got called for three straight net violations. Johnsen called time and the Vikings responded with a kill from Kylee Thompson.
That seemed to settle the Vikings down, and they closed out the game moments later after a Lanasa kill, Maddie Courter block and another Lanasa kill on game point.
"We were chasing them the whole game," Mastandrea said. "They outplayed us, no doubt."
Glenbard West led briefly early in Game 2 on a kill from middle Caroline Jenkins. But the mistakes started piling up for the Hilltoppers -- six attack errors in the game -- and Lanasa (4 kills in Game 2) and Loberg (3 kills) started putting balls away while Geneva's block and back row played solid.
The Vikings again executed coming out of a timeout, this time a Lanasa kill after the Hilltoppers closed within 16-13. Wicinski's dig led to an eventual kill from Loberg and a 23-20 lead, and after Jenkins momentarily kept the Hilltoppers alive on the Vikings' first match point, Loberg put down her seventh kill to end the match.
"We just did a little bit of everything," Johnsen said. "We played defense, we blocked, we attacked, we served well."
The Vikings have never won a sectional. They now get the opportunity for that elusive title for the second straight year, and this time it will be against a St. Charles North team Geneva outlasted in a three-set thriller earlier this fall in Upstate Eight play.
"We have our moments when we are awfully good," said Johnsen, who pointed to this year's loss to the Hilltoppers as a key point in the season. "That sent a good signal to us we could play with the best teams in the state."
Sophomore Natalie Schilling led Glenbard West with 6 kills.
"I'm not going to say we didn't play well, you have to give credit to Geneva," Mastandrea said. "This is a team that has been gunning for us for four years. We've been in some games that could have gone either way."
The Hilltoppers graduate Jenkins, Abbey Winkler, Meg DeMaar, Katie Ball and Caroline Leland.
"A year ago would you have bet 34-4, I don't think any of us would," Mastandrea said. "We had a touch schedule, the kids always rose to the challenges. I'm really proud of the seniors. Tomorrow 34-4 is going to look a whole lot better than it does today. But now it hurts."