Girls volleyball: Huntley rallies past St. Charles North in 3
St. Charles North was four points away from ending Huntley's season Monday night, but the Red Raiders weren't going down without a fight.
Trailing by a set and down 21-16 in the second set in the semifinals of the Class 4A Huntley sectional, Huntley scored nine straight points to stave off elimination and force a deciding third set.
With the momentum on its side, Huntley closed out a 23-25, 25-21, 25-21 victory to advance to Wednesday's sectional championship match against St. Charles East (23-14).
The Red Raiders will be trying to win their first sectional title since 2001.
"I told them, 'I promise you if you can fight and come back in Game 2 you will win this match,'" Huntley coach Karen Naymola said. "I knew it. They have been a team that has come back from 10, 11 points and they've come back and they've done it. I had all the confidence in the world if we went back to basics, stayed disciplined on defense, ran our offense, we'd pull it out. This is huge for us. We have big goals for ourselves."
The match lived up to the hype between the No. 1 and No. 3 ranked teams in the Daily Herald Top 20. First it was the North Stars who staged a comeback, trailing 23-18 in the first set before scoring seven straight to stun the Red Raiders.
St. Charles North (31-7) rode that momentum into the second set and led from 2-1 all the way to 22-21 when Julia Johnson's cross-court kill gave Huntley its first lead since 1-0.
"We've been in this situation before," Huntley middle Loren Alberts said. "We're closer this year, we play as a family more and we're better rounded. We all trust each other and we play balls out every time. We had that refuse to lose mentality."
St. Charles North's pair of four-year stalwarts Katie Lanz and Gigi Crescenzo connected on a set/smash that made it 20-16, then Kyla Lannert tipped a winner for a 21-16 lead as the North Stars inched closer to a possible return trip to state.
That's when Huntley (35-3) buckled down, starting with a winner from Marissa Deem. That sent Sarah Zayas to the service line, and she fired the next 8 points including an ace to cap the comeback.
The North Stars only made two mistakes during the run as Huntley earned most of the points using a balanced attack of Julia Johnson (17 kills), Alberts (8 kills), Emma Konie (8 kills) and Deem (7 kills).
"That's part of what makes them such a great team, they are a fighting type of team, they are super resilient," St. Charles North coach Lindsey Hawkins said of Huntley. "It made it hard to close out the match. Once they gain that kind of momentum it is hard to bounce back in that third set."
Huntley built a 15-11 lead in the third set but the North Stars rallied to tie at 15 on Crescenzo's kill and at 17 on a Huntley error.
Johnson and Alberts teamed up for a block that put Huntley ahead to stay at 18-17, and after a well-timed dink from Taylor Jakubowski put the Red Raiders up 23-21, the North Stars hit long and wide on the final two points.
"We knew it was going to be supersectional, state championship quality volleyball," Hawkins said. "Go back and forth, point for point. It was going to be the team that made fewer errors tonight. Unfortunately we made a few more errors than they did down the stretch."
Jakubowski finished with 38 assists and 22 digs while Zayas also saved what looked like several North Star winners with 23 digs.
"Sarah had a phenomenal game on defense," Naymola said. "Her serve-receive was almost perfect for us. They had to be some of the toughest serves we've seen all year to credit St. Charles North. We were able to run our offense. Taylor did a fantastic job distributing. Our main goal was we knew we had to force our middles tonight. Marissa Deem and Loren Alberts did a fantastic job in the middle. And this is the best crowd I've seen in the years I've been here."
Among the seniors St. Charles North loses are Lanz (UNC-Wilimgton) and Creszeno (Memphis) who were starters on last year's team that reached the state tournament for the first time in school history. The pair of four-year starters combined for 25 kills Monday.
"We're super proud of what they (our seniors) have accomplished and what they have done for the program," Hawkins said. "We are going to miss them a lot."