St. Charles North finally lost a set in the postseason Friday night, which turned out to bring out the best volleyball yet from the North Stars.
With their backs to the wall and the best season in school history on the line, St. Charles North rallied for a 17-25, 25-16, 25-15 victory over Downers Grove North at the Class 4A Geneva supersectional.
The North Stars are going to state for the first time, riding a 25-game win streak, and they got there by ousting a Downers Grove North squad that was the last one to beat them.
"We thought we were ready to come out but obviously we weren't," North Stars senior outside Abby Graham said of the first set.
"As a team we just said we need to play like we have been. We started being a lot more aggressive. The first game we came out thinking certain places were going to be open and their defense was phenomenal. So we said we are just going to start swinging hard and that helped us a ton."
St. Charles North (37-3) will play Minooka in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins fought back tears after the comeback. She credited the words Graham said between the first and second set for firing up her teammates.
"Abby Graham saying we're not going down without a fight, swing away, let's go," Hawkins said. "They really rallied.
"I just talked to them about being resilient. Don't be afraid. Fear nothing and go after it. And making sure they stay together because that's how we've been so successful this entire season. I was really proud they rose to the occasion."
Downers Grove North (27-13) capitalized on an uncharacteristic 10 errors by the North Stars in the opening set. Clare Delaplane (9 kills, 14 digs) provided much of the offense, including a shot down the line for a 17-14 lead, a block that made it 20-16 and an ace on the next point.
After Margaret Mahlke's kill took the Trojans to set point, the North Stars pushed a tip wide to end a frustrating start.
"I think the nerves got to us," North Stars junior Katie Lanz said. "We were just playing rattled and the second game we knew we had to calm down and play our game. We started to do our thing. The second set we realized we have to get down to business."
It didn't start so good. Beth Dunlap's ace put the Trojans up 4-2 before the North Stars answered with a 6-1 run that included a Lanz backset to Amanda Parker and Parker and CJ Johnson combining for a block.
Leading 13-10, Lauren Caprini served four straight including two aces. GiGi Crescenzo blocked a shot and smashed a free ball to make it 24-15 before Parker's kill sent the match to a deciding third set.
Crescenzo blocked 6 shots in the final 2 sets, one of the many North Stars to step up.
"Our blocking improved a ton," Parker said. "I don't know if we came out frazzled but it wasn't the energy we normally have. And we weren't being as aggressive with our swings. One of the biggest things coming into the second set was we need to be more aggressive with our blocking and coverage too."
The North Stars rode the momentum from the second set into a fast start in the third. It was tied just twice, the final one 2-2 as a Lanz kill, a Crescenzo ace, Johnson's push shot to the deep corner and another Crescenzo block quickly made it 9-4.
Trojans coach Mark Wasik called an early timeout but the North Stars kept surging, scoring the next three points out of the timeout to lead 12-4. Those came with Lanz serving; moments later Graham served four straight capped by a Parker blast for a 17-5 lead.
Ahead 24-11, the Trojans spoiled four match points before Lanz sealed the win with a quick dink. She was mobbed by her teammates who were quickly joined by hundreds of students storming the court.
"It's unbelievable," Lanz said. "It's something we have been working so hard for. It was our goal in the beginning of the season and now it's crazy that it's happening."
Lanz (9 kills, 2 aces, 10 assists, 19 digs), Graham (9 kills, 21 digs), Caprini (3 aces, 19 digs), Parker (7 kills, 7 assists), Crescenzo (5 kills) and Johnson (6 assists) led the North Stars.
"Kudos to St. Charles North," Wasik said. "At the end of the day they just had our number. When it's that big of a swing (from the first set to the next two), it's a little bit of us but it's a lot of them."
Kessie Olekanma (24 digs), Mahlke (7 kills, 2 blocks), Dunlap (17 assists) and Maddie Degiorgio (4 kills, 14 digs) paced the Trojans.
"I think the moment, I don't think we handled this situation as best as we could have," Wasik said of his lineup of three juniors and a sophomore. "When you get to this stage, some of that inexperience comes out."