The hope was that Thursday's regular-season finale between Waubonsie Valley and Benet would prove a nice launching pad into next week's volleyball playoffs.
For the most part it did, even though only one team could prevail. On this night it was the visiting Warriors who pulled out a tight 25-21, 25-23 nonconference win to send 26-9 Waubonsie Valley into the postseason with nine straight victories. The win in Lisle also avenged a three-game loss suffered earlier this season to the Redwings.
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"We were all focused and we wanted this win really bad after that loss earlier in the season," said Warriors senior outside hitter Michael Simmons, who had a match-high 15 kills. "So we realized if we play clean they can make mistakes too. I think it was just us not making too many mistakes."
Simmons wanted more than payback against Benet, he wanted to make sure his team stayed hot heading into Monday's match against Montini at the Neuqua Valley regional.
"We've won nine straight so we're going into the playoffs with a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum, which is huge in the playoffs," said Simmons, who was just named first-team all-Upstate Eight Conference along with teammates Connor Douville and Andrew Salmon.
The Redwings (24-11), meanwhile, may have not come out on top, but the hosts played a solid match and on senior night coach Amy Van Eekeren made sure to make the night extra special for some of her veterans. The Redwings led Game 1 by the scores of 12-7 and 15-12 and it was tied at 19 before the Warriors used late kills from Simmons and Douville to claim the opener.
"They're a great team and it's a friendly rivalry. The kids know each other and both sides play hard," Van Eekeren said. "I always want to win. I'm a competitor. However, this was about senior night. It's about seniors, about getting a chance to play and to play well and to play aggressive, and I'm hoping tonight that we made memories for the seniors."
Senior Anthony Gedvilas said everything went well, aside from the outcome.
"I think overall we played pretty well, and we played hard," he said. "Waubonsie's a really good team and we knew that coming in. Simmons is phenomenal. He's a great competitor, a great opponent, and all the rest of their players are pretty awesome."
That said, Gedvilas will remember the night and also knows that if the Redwings continue to play the way they have the last three weeks that they can make some noise next week. Garrett Metzger paced the Redwings with 9 kills and 3 blocks.
"We went tight with them both times we played and that's what you expect with two great teams," he said. "Senior night is a fun event. It was really awesome and it was great that everyone got a chance to play.
"The fans were going wild, and we appreciate that."
The Waubonsie fans and their bench just had a little more to cheer about as both Jake Furman and Jake Linden passed well. Simmons led a balanced attack that also saw Douville and Timothy Williams combined for 15 kills, and Salmon led a strong defense with 20 digs.
"It's always nice to get a good solid opponent heading into the state series," Warriors coach Al Lagger said. "We have been playing well as a unit. They've really come together strong and both setters have grown immensely from the beginning of the year. Jake Furman, the sophomore, doesn't set like a sophomore."