For the past 6 years Harvest Christian's path to the girls volleyball state finals has been blocked by losses in the supersectionals.
On Friday night in dramatic fashion the Lions finally blasted through that barrier with a 25-15, 25-23 win over Galena in front of a deafening home crowd.
Now all roads lead to Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal where the Lions hope to finish their journey to a Class 2A state championship.
The Lions (29-11) will face Champaign St. Thomas More (37-3) next Friday at 1:30 p.m. in a state semifinal.
Senior Amanda Cassidy, who as a 4-year varsity starter has suffered through three heartbreaking supersectional losses, led the way with a team-high 10 kills and 2 aces for Harvest Christian.
"I have no words to describe this," an elated Cassidy said. "It is the best feeling ever. It's amazing how this team has come together. We are really clicking. I think the biggest difference than in years past is we are not as young. A lot of us have been playing together on varsity for a few years. We've all been in this situation and knew how to handle the pressure this time."
The past 6 years Harvest Christian had relied heavily on standout Division 1 recruit Mikayla Robinson, right after the graduation of standout Sydney Doby. However, with Robinson off to college at South Carolina and Doby at Grand Valley State, the Lions had to find another way.
"With no Robinson this year we knew in order to accomplish our goal everyone would have to step up," Harvest Christian coach Mike Bui said. "And all season every game and every play it seemed like someone different was always stepping up. We have had tremendous leadership from our seniors. Amanda just played an amazing game tonight. It was just an incredible team effort."
Harvest cruised to victory in Game 1. Back-to-back kills by Cassidy and Zoe Pawelek put the Lions up 9-7 and they built on their momentum from there. Pawelek had 3 more big kills down the stretch while Cassidy and Hannah Griffith each added aces to help close out Game 1.
In Game 2 the Lions seemed to be rolling to victory with a 21-13 lead when things suddenly got interesting. Galena managed to rally to pull to within 23-21, but freshman Maya Jenkins, fresh off the bench, knocked down a huge kill to stymie the Pirates' momentum and pull the Lions to within one point of victory. Galena scored the next 2 points to make it 24-23 before Jenkins came up big again with a match ending kill.
"I just had this gut feeling I had to put her in," Bui sad. "What an incredible couple of plays she made after sitting on the bench the whole match."
Pawelek finished with 7 kills and a team-high 6 digs.
"Man, am I stoked," Pawelek said. "I can't wait to play downstate with my teammates. We are like sisters. We constantly pick each other up. Everyone wanted this so bad. You could just feel the passion."
Kaitlin Murray added 23 assists and Rylee Boldog had 4 aces for the winners. The Lions had 26 digs as a team.
"Galena had some big hitters and we were able to shut them down for the most part," Bui said. "We were just making dig after dig. The defense is really what won this match for us."