Naperville Central senior middle hitter Michael Timmerberg just played one of his best volleyball matches of the season Tuesday, but there was no time to celebrate.
Moments after the Redhawks defeated Neuqua Valley 25-20, 25-20 in the semifinals of the Neuqua Valley regional, they made a beeline for the exit to return in time for the school's graduation ceremony. The original starting time of the match was moved up 90 minutes to accommodate the Redhawks.
"We're trying to get out of here as soon as possible. That really helped (winning in two sets)," said Timmerberg, who had 7 kills in 9 attacks, 2 aces and 2 blocks for points.
"Really, it wasn't (a distraction with graduation). I was completely focusing on this game and it was just this game that was the most important thing tonight."
Timmerberg and the Redhawks (32-4), the No. 1 seed in the Hinsdale Central sectional, hope to celebrate their first regional title since 2008 by beating No. 8 Wheaton Warrenville South (23-13) in the final at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Redhawks won both regular-season DuPage Valley Conference meetings as they and the Tigers finished second and third, respectively, to Lake Park.
Naperville Central beat No. 15 Neuqua (12-21) 25-9, 25-11 May 2 at the Benet Invite, but the Wildcats played an inspired match Tuesday.
The Redhawks' Jack Burton, Timmerberg, Jon Chiczewski, Dan Trembacki and Kevin Prazak helped to overcome an 11-7 deficit in the first game.
Naperville Central led 13-9 in the second game, but the Wildcats came back to tie three times before the Redhawks scored the final five points of the match.
"Obviously, it's the state series, so coming out here and dictating the tempo from the first match was important to us. We came in with some confidence and played hard," Naperville Central coach Roger Strausberger said. "We knew we'd get back for (graduation). It was just a matter of getting there."
Neuqua junior Austin Neace was an offensive dynamo on the other side with 13 of the Wildcats' 23 kills and just two attack errors. Kyle Zacok, Connor Hounsell and Brian McKissick each added 3 kills among Aaron Lauth's 20 assists.
"It was really close both games. Despite the way our season had gone, even though we lost in two, this is one of the best matches that we played all year, considering we are playing the No. 1 team in the sectional," Neuqua coach Roderich Mendoza said.
Timmerberg began the first-game comeback with a kill off serve receive. Burton had kills on the next two points to close the deficit to 11-10. Burton served two points, including an ace, for an 18-14 lead and Timmerberg's kill with Raymond Chang serving made it 20-15.
With the second game tied 20-20, Trembacki dumped the serve-receive pass from Burton for a point. With Chiczewski now serving, the next four points came from a kill by Timmerberg, a block by Timmerberg and Trembacki and two more Burton kills, including match point.
"I've been a little off the last couple of matches and this game was a little bringing me back to normal," Timmerberg said. "Having Jack Burton and Jon Chiczewski on the our outsides is just really opening up the middle because their outsides can't double-team me. That really helps me to get me more space."
Tanner Beck, the Redhawks' other middle hitter, had 3 kills in three attacks.
"Both of our middles played great," Strausberger said.
Defending state champion Downers Grove South eliminated the Redhawks in the regional semifinal and Neuqua in the sectional final. The Wildcats graduated 10 seniors, and the four seniors in Tuesday's seven-player rotation returned with little varsity experience.
"We are really young. It's going to be really exciting how we come out next year," Mendoza said. "(I asked), 'Are you guys going to work on your game, work on your serve receive?' because that's really the key for varsity."