Fremd girls volleyball coach Curt Pinley was well aware how important Tuesday's crosstown match with Palatine was in terms of the Mid-Suburban League West race.
Senior Jess Rizzo knew, too.
That's why, despite missing school and practice on Monday due to illness and not feeling that well on Tuesday during classes, she was determined to play on Tuesday night.
And play she did, putting down a team-high 11 kills in what turned out to be a crosstown classic.
Fremd's other Jess (Rizzo's classmate Mazur) added 9 kills and 6 blocks while junior Heide Sayre clicked for 7 kills, including a huge one for the penultimate point in Fremd's dramatic 23-25, 25-19, 26-24 triumph.
Sayre swept under Sarah Straup's 6-foot set and swiped it to the floor to give Fremd a 25-24 lead in Set 3 before a net call gave Fremd the win and a 3-1 record in the MSL West, one match behind Schaumburg (4-0).
"We knew the only way we could keep chasing Schaumburg was to win this match," said Fremd coach Curt Pinley, whose team is 11-6 overall. "We knew it would be a big match -- Fremd-Palatine is always 'that big game' and it was tonight."
Palatine 6-foot-2 junior Haley Holz had 'the game,' putting down a match-high 14 kills, including many that helped the Pirates build a 9-point lead in Set 1 and 7-point lead in Set 3.
"Haley is outstanding," said Pirates coach Dan Gavin whose team is 7-5 and 1-3 in the West. "To me, she is best player in the conference And she is learning to be more well rounded. It's a challenge for her. Other teams are picking on her in serve receive right now. She has to decide the way to stop that is to be a little more consistent in passing. And she is moving in the right direction."
Holz' kills were coming at Fremd from all directions.
"She was on fire everywhere -- front row and back row," Pinley said. "If they had set her from the second row in the bleachers she still would have gotten kills."
"She had a really nice night, and when they have a player like that you have to make sure to work hard to stop everyone else. That was kind of our short-term goal. You try to stop everyone else. She's going to get her kills but you try to keep them to a minimum."
It was match that kept the fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
"And the crowd sounded like it was a sectional final," said Pinley, who watched his team come back from a 9 point deficit in Set 1 and lead 23-22 on a kill by Sayre.
But senior setter Allison Aldag (30 assists) served for the final 3 points to give Palatine the win, getting a block by Karina Szafraniec, a kill by Holz and a lift call for the 25th point.
But the defending Mid-Suburban League champs regrouped, and Sayre served the Vikings to a 3-0 lead in Set 2.
The advantage increased to a 6-1 on an ace by Maddie Aichinger, and Fremd never let Palatine closer than 3 points the rest of the set.
"We had to work really hard as a team, stay calm, focus on our pass first and then just put the ball down," Sayre said. "It was really a team effort and we had to push hard the entire match. Every time we lost a point we had to work hard to side out and make sure we didn't get further behind.
Palatine gained its biggest at 12-5 in the third set on back row kill from Holz. The Pirates still enjoyed a 19-13 lead on an ace from Aldag and hitting error by Fremd.
But the Vikings gradually chipped away at the deficit.
"I've talked to them all season about once you get in the 20s, you can compete with anyone," Pinley said. "I told them you've just got to get to 20 points, and that's what happened. We got to 20 and were able to compete with them."
Mazur's ace got the Vikings to a 21-21 tie, forcing Gavin to call time out.
A few moments later the Pirates led 23-21 when 5-10 sophomore middle blocker Sarah Elischer, making her varsity debut in a match as intense as they get, collected her second solo block in the set.
"She did great," Gavin said. "I challenged her and said 'this isn't necessarily a fair situation to put you in but life isn't always fair.' I told her she was going to rise to the occasion and she did. It was a great job."
It was a great finish as Fremd came back to tie it at 23 on Sayre's kill off the net and a block by Peyton Hooker.
Rizzo followed with a nice save in the back row getting the ball up to Straup (29 assists) for a kill and 24-23 lead.
A serving tied the set at 24 before Sayre's big kill and the net violation ended the match.
Rizzo was still in the gym when most had left.
"I think she was just cramping up," Pinley said. "We were coming off a long week and she was sick on Monday and today. She said there was no way she was going to miss this match and she stepped up and had a huge match."
The match marked the third time Palatine lost a conference set in overtime (29-27 to Barrington and 28-26 to Schaumburg).
"We've lost by a combined 8 points in our three conference losses and I truly don't know if I've ever seen that in my coaching career," said Gavin, who also received 8 kills from Emily Campe and 6 from Beverly Ryan. "That's been the story of our season. We have to be disciplined and commit to our system and what we are doing. We tend to freelance a little bit too much, and that costs us points."
"But it's an opportunity to teach the kids about the value of doing little things correctly. Fremd did those things tonight. They were a little more consistent than we were and deserved to win the match."