Resilient and athletic even in season-ending defeat, Khaila Donaldson bounced to her feet immediately after a kill by Lake Zurich's Mallory Parsons flattened Stevenson's star and ended Thursday night's Class 4A Conant sectional final.
"It was a great swing by her," Donaldson said after No. 1 Lake Zurich outlasted the third-seeded Patriots 25-23, 25-22 in Hoffman Estates. "It was a missed block by us. That was happening throughout the match. It just so happened that (Parson's kill) was the game point. It was just another error that we made."
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Good teams make their opponents do atypical things. Both Lake Zurich and Stevenson did that to each other, much as they did when the Bears rallied to beat the Patriots in three sets during their North Suburban Lake Division match six weeks ago.
Lake Zurich improved to 35-4 in advancing to Saturday's 6:30 p.m. Huntley supersectional against Crystal Lake South (36-3), while Stevenson had its season end at 31-8. It was Lake Zurich's first sectional championship since 2009.
"We just tried to be really patient and keep our intensity really high," said Lake Zurich setter Kristen Walding, who dished out 24 assists and chalked up a pair of blocks. "We just tried to focus on ourselves and play our game."
Lake Zurich never led by more than four points in the opening set and fell behind late. Donaldson hammered a kill to put Stevenson up 23-22 before Parsons' kill evened the score. Kiley McPeek then served the Bears' next two points.
The second set played out similarly. The largest advantage for either team was three points until Lake Zurich ran off five straight points -- after Kara Maleski deftly dinked the ball for a kill and 20-19 Stevenson advantage. A missed serve and kill attempt that sailed long kept Lake Zurich from finishing off the match before Parsons powered down the winner off the powerful hands of Donaldson.
"We just couldn't make a play when we needed to make a play at the end of both games," Stevenson coach Tim Crow said. "Our serve-receive was either off the net or really tight to the net. It made us two-dimensional pretty much. Give credit to Zurich. They played well."
Unlike in its sectional-semifinal win over Carmel, Stevenson didn't get the balanced offensive attack it hoped it would. Donaldson finished with a match-best 10 kills, 2 solo blocks and 2 assisted blocks.
"She's a real good player," said Parsons, who totaled a Bears-best 8 kills, 8 digs and 2 aces. "She's talented. She played a heck of a game. She played really hard."
Walding spread the wealth, as she always does. McPeek had 7 kills and 2 aces, Allie McIlwain added 4 kills, Mickenzie Andrews chipped in 3 kills and Sydney Glover contributed 2 kills and 2 blocks. Ashley Dina did her digging, posting 17 digs.
"We played a little bit cleaner tonight," Lake Zurich coach Matt Aiello said. "We didn't make as many errors. We kept the pressure on them by keeping the ball on the court, and we just kept battling and battling."
Stevenson got 4 kills apiece from Maleski and Jen Kapov. Alexa Bykowski lofted 21 assists and Peyton Bykowski led the Patriots with 8 digs.
"I just think (Lake Zurich) made some great plays," Donaldson said. "When we were tied and we should have really hammered it home and made our great plays, we were making errors. Which put us even further behind."