St. Charles North's girls volleyball team has produced plenty of 30-win seasons and Division I players through the years but never a sectional champion.
That changed Wednesday night, and it couldn't have come against a more fitting opponent.
In front of a big and boisterous crowd in DeKalb, the top-seeded North Stars knocked off No. 2 St. Charles East 26-24, 25-18 to win that elusive sectional title.
The North Stars (36-3) beat the Saints (31-8) much easier earlier this season -- 25-14, 25-12 -- but got quite a fight Wednesday especially in the opening set when St. Charles East erased 4 set points.
"First sectional title and we're extremely excited about it," North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins smiled. "We wouldn't want it any other way (beating SCE) because they are such a good program. The road to state is hard. This is good preparation for what is to come Friday."
St. Charles North advances to the Class 4A Geneva supersectional at 6 p.m. Friday against Downers Grove North -- the last team the North Stars lost to 24 matches ago.
"We are pretty confident in how we are playing right now," junior outside GiGi Crescenzo said. "I think East played a lot harder this time. We were both hitting hard and digging a lot of balls and it was really competitive. It's a lot of fun and you just have to block out the crowd."
Hannah Spicer's shot landed just in on the back line on the first point of the night, giving the Saints a 1-0 lead. That turned out to be the only time St. Charles East led in either set.
That didn't mean things came easy for the North Stars. Far from it as Saints junior McKenna Slavik (15 digs, 13 assists, 4 kills) kept St. Charles North off-balance with some quick tips, UConn-bound outside Klaudia Sowizral (6 kills) took some big swings and Kyra Slavik (3 assists, 7 digs) put away a team-high 9 kills.
"I know they have been working really hard too and I think they just improved," said North Star junior Katie Lanz, who led both teams with 11 kills. "At the beginning of the game I tried hitting hard and they were either blocking it or getting it so everyone started mixing up the shots."
On the fourth point of the night, Abby Graham dove to keep a ball alive on the North Stars side, starting the first of many long rallies. This one ended when Lanz hit down the line for a 3-1 St. Charles North lead.
Liberos Anna Skryd for the Saints and North's Lauren Caprini both finished with 16 digs. Many of Caprini's came with Sowizral blasting cross-court rockets at her that she repeatedly kept from hitting the floor.
"She was on fire," Hawkins said. "She was reading really well. They are coming really fast and she just sticks it and hopes for the best."
With Lanz firing her jump serve, Crecenzo and Graham's back-to-back blocks put the North Stars up 8-3. In her next turn serving Lanz drilled the first of her 3 aces for a 17-13 lead.
The North Stars were up 21-17 after a block by Kelly Jakaitis. Down 24-20, the Saints scored 4 straight on two North errors and 2 Sowizral kills.
"Our kids came back in that first game and really battled and that just shows what they have," Saints coach Jennie Kull said.
After the Saints hit long to put the North Stars back up 25-24, Crescenzo's kill ended St. Charles East's rally on the fifth set point.
"I was just thinking I should swing hard and stay aggressive and try not to be afraid," Crescenzo said.
St. Charles North started fast in the second set, leading 9-4 after a Lanz ace. Charlie Ambrose's ace pulled the Saints even at 10, and they tied the match a final time at 15 on Kyra Slavik's kill.
A tip from Lanz started a 10-3 run for the North Stars to close the match. Lanz also knocked a ball off the Saints block for another point, served an ace and set Johnson for a kill during the match-closing stretch.
"She (Lanz) is extremely hard to stop," Hawkins said. "She's such an athletic player and she brings so much to this team in terms of versatility. She's doing it all for us."
The match ended on a Saints hitting error, which Kull said was the difference.
"Our kids as seniors were more aggressive, they went after it and they (North) really just kept the ball in play," Kull said. "It's a game of errors and we made them. You have to put the ball down against them and our hitters didn't do it."
Leaders for the North Stars included Crescenzo (5 kills, 13 digs), Amanda Parker (5 kills, 12 assists), Lanz (3 aces, 7 assists), Johnson (2 kills, 5 assists) and Graham (3 kills, 12 digs). Hawkins liked the way her team served.
"That was the plan to get them out of system as much as possible because McKenna is so dangerous when she's in system," Hawkins said. "She keeps you on your toes."
Ambrose, one of six seniors for the Saints, added 10 digs.
"They are a great group of seniors," Kull said. "They are going to go on individually and do great things. They gave everything they have tonight."