When the St. Charles North girls volleyball team finds itself in a tight spot, like they were last Friday down a set in the Class 4A Geneva supersectional, the North Stars have learned to listen even more closely than usual to coach Lindsey Hawkins.
"She definitely pumps us up," senior Amanda Parker said. "She gets in there and starts screaming, yelling this is our year. At the end when she tears up, you know she wants it just as much as we do if not more."
The North Stars fought back from that opening set loss to Downers Grove North, winning the final two sets convincingly 25-16, 25-15 to qualify for the state tournament for the first time.
St. Charles North likely will run into some more stressful situations this weekend at the Class 4A state tournament at Redbird Arena. With the four state semifinalists a combined 145-8, nothing will come easy.
The North Stars (36-3) play Minooka (38-2) in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday followed by Marist (39-1) against Crystal Lake Central (32-3).
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that most teams don't get," Parker said. "We're blessed to even make it there but we're most excited to go."
In her ninth year as coach, Hawkins has won at least 23 games every year. She's 247-86 overall including 31-6 in 2013 and 34-4 in 2015.
This squad has gone farther than any before. They didn't lose a set in the regional or sectional, sweeping rival St. Charles East in the sectional final.
"We worked so hard and we did this for each other and for Hawkins," senior Abby Graham said. "It means the world to us we could do it for her. Everybody stepped up and it was so important for that to happen."
Graham's 213 kills rank second on the team to Katie Lanz with 283. Lanz is one of many versatile players in the lineup who also has 231 assists, 84 aces and 290 digs.
GiGi Crescenzo is a third player with 200 kills; she also has 288 digs. Parker has 126 kills and 260 assists, libero Lauren Caprini leads with 363 digs and CJ Johnson has chipped in a team-best 44 blocks plus 92 kills and 146 assists.
"I don't see any weaknesses," Parker said. "Everyone contributes equally."
The North Stars will need everyone on the top of their game Friday.
Second in state last year, Minooka has only lost to Marist (20-25, 25-15, 25-18) and Edwardsville.
"They are extremely good," Hawkins said. "Well-rounded and experienced, as most of this team has been playing together at the varsity and club level for the past few years. We will have to serve very tough to beat them, block well, and expose some of their weaknesses on defense in order to win. Keeping them out of system as much as possible is going to be key."
Minooka features a couple powerful senior outsides, Allison Papesh with 336 kills and Raquel Perinar with 327. Right-side Holly Bonde has added 252.
Papesh is headed to Dayton and Bonde is going to Kansas. Libero Taylor Baranski, who has 504 digs, will play at Iowa State, and Perinar at Tennessee.
St. Charles North used to play Minooka at the Indians' tournament every season until Minooka stopped hosting it this year.
"It was always a very competitive match between the two of us and we enjoyed heading down to Minooka because we always knew we would get a really good game against them, an opponent that we wouldn't normally see," Hawkins said. "I've enjoyed watching Rocky (Perinar) progress into the amazing player she is now, as I remember her when she was a freshman on the varsity team and her sister Ginger who plays at Southern was a senior on the team. Rocky has really become a great player and reached the potential I saw in her when she was just a baby freshman."
The Indians beat Benet 25-20, 25-20 in the sectional finals. St. Charles North lost to Benet in 3 sets; Sandburg and Downers Grove North are the only other teams to beat the North Stars.
However this weekend goes, it's been an unforgettable season for Hawkins and her players.
"This week has been so incredibly special," Hawkins said. "Just the fact that I get to spend one more week working with these girls and making memories together is such a privilege. We are so excited to have this opportunity to represent our school and community and to have one of the best, most memorable experiences of our lives."