Given how hard it has been for Geneva's girls volleyball program to snare that elusive sectional title, it's fitting how the Vikings finally did it Thursday in the Class 4A Geneva sectional championship game.
After dropping the first set and being five points away from defeat in the second, the Vikings stormed back, sending their home fans into a court-rushing frenzy with a wild 21-25, 25-22, 25-22 victory over St. Charles North and the first sectional championship in school history.
"We knew we had to calm down and bring more energy and we knew we could do it," said Geneva's Grace Loberg, who put away 3 of her team-high 14 kills in the final 5 points. "We're so excited. It's just a great feeling we'll have forever. We knew we could be this good. We weren't surprised. We had to work hard and put it all out there."
To make school history No. 4 seeded Geneva (29-9) had to survive Batavia in three sets last Thursday, then oust No. 1 seed Glenbard West and No. 2 St. Charles North (31-6) this week.
"I'm so proud of my team," senior middle Taylor Marmitt said. "They worked so hard for this. We couldn't have done it without every single person giving 110 percent."
Coach KC Johnsen's teams have been close before, none more than last year's squad that lost in the sectional final to Glenbard West.
"Five of these kids were so close last year, one ball away," Johnsen said. "They were on a mission to do that since that very point last year. And we brought in a ton of new people. It's a real nice blend."
Those newcomers start with the 6-2 Loberg and 6-2 Ally Barrett, both freshmen, who combined for 23 kills. They and their teammates got off to a slow start, making as many attack errors (7) as kills (7) in Game 1.
The North Stars jumped to a 5-0 lead and were up 15-9 when the Vikings used an 11-4 surge to take their only lead of the first game, 20-19. Taylor Krage helped settle her team down with three kills down the stretch including one on game point that landed just inside the back line.
"I felt the first set we really came out and served aggressively," North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins said. "We didn't let them get in system which is why they didn't have as many kills."
The Vikings began their comeback early in Game 2, taking leads of 6-2 and 12-8 before the North Stars made a push to end the match in two. A big block from Daley Krage put the North Stars ahead 20-18.
Geneva scored three straight points to regain the lead, and tied at 22-22 Barrett put her team ahead to stay with a blast down the line. After a North Star hitting error, Courtney Caruso set Loberg for game point and a deciding third game.
The Vikings had 17 kills in Game 2 with just one error -- and that came on a ball that looked like it might have been touched by the North Star block.
"Even though we ended up losing the first game it was crucial we gathered ourselves and got going because North is a great team," Johnsen said. "They haven't lost very many. For us to get them twice when we are so evenly matched, I'm really proud of the kids. That's a huge accomplishment. They certainly tested us about as much as we wanted to be tested tonight."
Geneva only trailed once in Game 3 at 1-0, but that didn't mean there wasn't plenty of drama. The teams were tied at 15, 16, 19 and 20.
The Vikings won Game 3 despite making seven service errors. The North Stars only had one, but that miss gave Geneva a 21-20 lead. From there, Loberg was unstoppable putting the ball away on points 22, 23 and 24 before the North Stars hit long on match point.
"That's what Grace does," Johnsen said. "She is really something special. We've had some pretty special kids in this gym and she's only a freshman and before she's through here she's going to show everyone she belongs in the best we've ever had if she hasn't already shown that.
"It's (the first sectional title) kind of cool for all the kids who have done so well here through the years," Johnsen continued. "They laid down the tradition. We've always tried to win 30 every year. Those other kids really established the volleyball program the last 13, 14 years. They are a part of this too."
During a year that saw her team win three tournament championships and a share the UEC River crown, a key for the North Stars was taking care of their side of the net, always making fewer mistakes than the opponent. That got away from them at key moments against the Vikings, who ended up handing the North Stars two of their six losses.
"They had some heavy hitters on that side so they made defense hard tonight," Hawkins said. "We had some hitting errors that were kind of key. We didn't pass all that well. We didn't get in system enough, didn't get the ball to our middles."
Krage led St. Charles North with 10 kills.
"This is an amazing team, one of the best teams I've been a part of," Hawkins said. "It will be hard to see a lot of them go. But as I've always told them the legacy they created is going to carry on forever. I'm really proud of them."
Marmitt (7 blocks), Loberg (14 kills), Barrett (9 kills), Hannah Lanasa (9 kills), Caruso (24 assists) and Kelsey Wicinski (28 digs) all came up big for Geneva who will play New Trier at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Class 4A St. Charles East supersectional.
"That was a great match," Johnsen said. "That was just a battle. We tried to tell everybody it was going to be a battle and sure enough it was."