Henry Curtis and the Glenbard West boys volleyball team tried not to be deterred.
It could have been easy to get discouraged. After leading most of the first set in the championship match against Neuqua Valley of the Springfest tournament at Glenbard East, the Hilltoppers dropped the first set. They led for a majority of the second set before falling behind again and facing five match points.
"I mean, I can't say I wasn't nervous," Curtis said, "but I think once we got into our rotations -- we had a few rotations where we had good advantages -- I knew we were going to be all right."
The Hilltoppers' confidence paid off. Glenbard West rallied to beat Neuqua Valley and take the Springfest title 23-25, 30-28, 25-23.
Glenbard West (8-1) knew it didn't have to change anything on the court from the first set.
"We did this thing, stop playing not to lose, play to win," Glenbard West coach Christine Giunta-Mayer said. "Once they kind of heard that, they're like, 'We're playing to not lose and we can't do that. We got to change our mentality.'"
It showed. Neuqua Valley (13-1) had match point at 24-21 after a Mark Borghesi kill. The Hilltoppers took a timeout and rattled off three straight points to tie the game at 24.
A service error gave the Wildcats another match point, but Curtis connected with J.T. Ardell to tie it again. Neuqua Valley and Glenbard West exchanged leads four more times, before Curtis connected with Stone Metz to give the Hilltoppers a 29-28 lead. Zach Morris had an ace to seal the set for Glenbard West.
The Hilltoppers limited Jeremy Grove in that second set, too.
"I think they understood our offensive scheme," Grove, who finished with 22 kills, said. "Once they got a couple of blocks on me and our middles, I think we just kind of fell apart."
It gave Glenbard West a lot of momentum.
"After we won the second set, it was big," Ryan Swartz said. "We knew that we could take them and we were going to take them for a good game in the third set."
It was indeed a tight third set. There were 14 ties, 3 lead changes and either team led in the set for more than 2 points.
"I told the guys, 'Don't be down on yourselves for the way you played,'" Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. "Glenbard is a good team. That could have just as easily gone the other way. We had an opportunity."
Glenbard West took a 22-20 lead in the third set, but Kevin Kauling connected with Grove for a kill and the Hilltoppers had an error to tie the match at 22.
That's when Curtis orchestrated the offense to a win. On the next rally the setter flicked a ball for a kill instead of passing, then set up Swartz for a kill to get match point. An error made it 24-23, but Curtis again found Swartz for a kill and the win.
"I was just really hoping I wouldn't hit that out of bounds," Swartz said. "I knew it once I hit it, it was (good)."