When her team was trailing Schaumburg 8-2 to start the third set, veteran Hersey coach Nancy Lill was quite honest in assessing the situation.
"Things were looking bleak there," she said. "It was a little scary looking at the scoreboard, but I knew if we just played our match and kept our composure, we'd be fine."
Sure enough, the Huskies were looking at a scoreboard that was quickly showing the Mid-Suburban League champions making up the deficit.
Hersey used an 11-1 run to take a 13-9 lead and then grinded its way to the 25-23, 16-25, 25-22 victory over the MSL West co-champions in the semifinal of the Class 4A New Trier sectional in Winnetka on Monday night.
The first semifinal was just as exciting, with the host Trevians outlasting No. 4 seed Niles West in three sets.
So it will be No. 1 New Trier (32-5) against No. 2 Hersey (30-9) for the championship at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
No. 6 Schaumburg (23-15) did its best to try to deny the matchup of the top two seeds, grabbing a 17-10 lead in Set 1, winning by 9 points in Set 2 and grabbing the 8-2 advantage in Set 3.
"Give Schaumburg credit," Lill said "They played a match and half. They're outsides (righty Morgan Sterrett and lefty Dana Kiszkowski) did everything possible to win that match. Schaumburg block and hit great and played great as a team. What a job Tim (Murphy, Schaumburg first-year coach) has done. Props to him."
Sophomore Kati Kaburov, the MSL East Player of the Year, and senior Amy Morgan led the Huskies with 10 kills apiece while MSL West Co-Player of the Year Sterrett put down 15 kills and Kiszkowski added 12.
"Schaumburg was such a tough team," said Kaburov, who came up with a big service run to help the Huskies overcome the 8-2 deficit in Set 3. "We just played a little tougher. It was a team effort. Everyone really wanted to win."
No better illustration of that team effort was Lill's use of two defensive specialists.
Seniors Julia Coniglio (10 digs) and Molly Twohig (13 digs) shared the libero jersey.
"Just a team effort," Lill said "Molly has been the libero all season. Julia has been our libero for the last quarter of the season. We put Molly back in there and it was like she didn't miss a beat. Both of them were great. It's nice to have two who are interchangeable like that."
After Kaboruv served the Huskies to a 13-9 led with 6 straight points, including 2 aces, the Huskies' stretched the lead to 19-13 on Morgan's tip.
But Schaumburg kept their fans cheering with six straight points to pull into a 19-19 tie. Sterrett served for five of the points, which included a kill and block from Kiszkowski, a tip by Natalie Asa and 2 aces.
Moments later, Twohig went to the service line and aggressively reeled off 4 straight points helping Hersey to a 23-19 advantage.
"Molly was huge," Lill said. "What a job she did, and that is all guts and determination. All our seniors did not want their season to end there. It was an exciting match."
Kaburov's kill got Hersey to match point at 24-21 before the Huskies put away their 30th win of the season.
"It's fun to hit 30," said Lill who hit No. 949 for her career. "But Schaumburg pushed us to the max.
"The big difference was our aggressive serving toward the end. I think it took them out of their offense a little. Early on they were the aggressors and we were being tentative."
Gabby Paelmo ended her varsity career with her usual scrappiness all over the floor. The senior libero collected 21 digs while Sterrett added 16 and 3 blocks. Ari Doroskin led with 7 blocks and Kiszkowski added 3.
Junior setter Michelle Candotti handed out 26 assists.
"It's a tough loss but if I'm being honest we left everything out there," Murphy said. "I kept telling them 'no regrets' and I don't think we had any regrets. We were flying around the court."
Senior Hayley Martin added 5 kills for Hersey while Alessia Olhava and Juliette van den Herik each had 2. Janine Boyan added one as the Huskies avenged a three-set loss to Schaumburg on Sept 5.
"Coach told us we'd see them again and we worked hard to show that we've gotten better," Martin said. "We were super ready for this. We kept our composure, knew what we needed to do, and we did it."
"You've got to tip your cap to Hersey," Murphy added. "They came out and made some plays at the end of the match.
"But I couldn't be prouder of our girls the way they stuck together and battled. I thought it was a great match to watch from a fan's perspective. It was exciting, up and down, and back and forth.
"The first match was fantastic, too, between New Trier and Niles West. It was just a great night of volleyball."
And Hersey's next night will be a match vs. New Trier on Wednesday.
"New Trier is one of the best teams in the state," Lill said. "We are going to prepare and give it a go.
"We've played some good teams before. You don't play the name, you play the team. They're big but we're excited for the opportunity Anything can happen. You can't count this team out. These girls have character. They don't give up."