Not even a ball that hit the ceiling and was careening awkwardly out of bounds towards the back wall could cross up the Warren boys volleyball team.
Seemingly scrappier with every play, the Blue Devils refused to let any ball hit the floor Tuesday night in the final moments of their sectional championship game against Deerfield at Highland Park.
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Senior Bryant Holland, who made one "game-of-his-life" play after another, somehow tracked down that troubled ball and kept it in play.
"It was just reactions, and trying to win," Holland said. "It was tough because it hit the ceiling, and I slipped, too. But somehow I got it."
It was a key moment during an exhausting and stressful match point, which Warren eventually won thanks to a Deerfield error at the net.
The Blue Devils' 19-25, 25-20, 27-25 victory over Deerfield was one for the record books. It sends Warren to the state volleyball finals for the first time in school history.
On Friday, the Blue Devils (26-13) will take on Chicago Payton in the 5 p.m. state quarterfinal at Hoffman Estates High School.
"This is just crazy," said Holland, who rolled up a game-high 17 kills, many of which came from the back row. He also had 8 digs. "It's crazy to think that the last time Warren got this far was 2008, but they didn't win this game. We're doing this for the first time and it's just crazy. It's a good way to go out with a bang senior year."
The Blue Devils looked like they were going to go out with a whimper early on.
Deerfield, which had swept Warren in two games during a match earlier this season, stormed out of the gate and rattled off a 9-1 advantage in Game 1. The Warriors were blocking up a storm, and scored four of their first nine points on block kills. Warren could never cut the deficit to fewer than five points.
But the Blue Devils didn't let their bad start carry over into the second game. They jumped out to an 8-3 lead, fought off a few Deerfield rallies and finished with some emphatic block kills of their own. Zachary Schultz had three straight to end the game for Warren.
"We had our struggles in the beginning but we stuck with what we needed to do and we came through," Warren coach Yun Chen said. "We really played well in the end and believed in each other. We've been preaching that all season long and now we're sectional champs.
"It's great to have this feeling. The seniors were undefeated as freshmen and sophomores and they really, really wanted this for their senior season to go to state. And not to just go there, but to win state. I'm just here for the ride with those guys."
Other seniors also came up big for Warren. Mitch Maan de Kok, Max Bongratz and Jeremy White all finished with 7 kills, while senior setter Arvind Kouta rolled up 37 assists and a team-high 12 digs.
"All of my teammates came through tonight, it was really great," Kouta said. "This is such a privilege to be able to give back to my school like this.
"I think we were anxious at first, but we fought back. We don't quit and we're going to push every team to their limit."
Deerfield (32-7) wasn't expecting to get the shove in the gut that it got from Warren. The Warriors advanced to the state quarterfinals last year and were fully expecting to return this season.
"We thought we were going to come out and be the better team, win easily and be on our way back to state," said Deerfield senior hitter Zach Hara, who had 13 kills, just behind John Harlan's team-leading 15 kills. "Clearly, that's not what happened. (Warren) came to play and they played hard every point. They were scrappier. They wouldn't let the ball hit the ground. They were hungry and they got it.
"We did not expect to be in this position right now."
Michael Sherman added 6 kills for Deerfield while setters Nick Tonner and Ryan Slack finished with 21 and 18 assists respectively.
On match point, with the ball back on Deerfield's side, a miscommunication at the net resulted in the Warriors trying to set up an attack on the fourth touch of the ball instead of the third.
"Warren did a great job of making adjustments against us and we certainly had our opportunities to answer," Deerfield coach Eugene Chung said. "But we made a couple of really untimely mistakes.
"I give (Warren) a lot of credit. They really, really showed that they wanted it and they played great tonight."