ELGIN – Two student sections converged on their respective girls volleyball teams as Thursday’s 4A Larkin Sectional final concluded.
Glenbard West fans rushed the floor after the Hilltoppers rallied for a 25-27, 27-25, 25-21 victory against Geneva. That Vikings’ backers weren’t shy with about their own support helped punctuate the team’s breakthrough season.
“Geneva does not have a sectional championship, so to just be here is a really great accomplishment for us,” senior libero Kelly Dalheim said. “For a team that wasn’t supposed to do this good, we’re really proud of ourselves.”
Glenbard West (37-2) could attest. Entering this season, the Hilltoppers hadn’t won a West Suburban Silver title since 1984 or a regional title since 1985.
On Thursday, the team eclipsed the 1983 state champions for the most single-season victories in school history and sit one win away from a resurgent return to the state tournament. The Hilltoppers will face New Trier in the Niles West Supersectional on Saturday.
Players count their first victory against Geneva this season – a three-set victory in the Hilltoppers’ own early-season invite – as an important building block for their run. At a time when teams still are figuring out rotations and identities, the Hilltoppers started cementing their standing as a bounce-back bunch.
Energetic play from senior outside hitter Hannah Buck (17 kills, 22 digs) spurred the Vikings to a Game 1 victory and helped them recover from a number of Game 2 deficits to grab a 21-19 lead. The second game was tied, 25-all, before Glenbard West scored on a Megan Wagner kill and subsequent error by the Vikings (29-10).
“Geneva had a lot of energy and it took us a while to adjust,” said the Hilltoppers’ Amanda Perry, who softly tipped the match-clinching kill, “but once we started playing as a team, we got our energy up and played a lot better.”
Glenbard West’s wealth of offensive options started with Perry and Wagner, who had 13 kills apiece. Katie Ball added 12, while freshman Natalie Schilling chipped in eight.
Between Perry’s deft match-ending move to mid-range kills to a handful of power shots, the Hilltoppers struck in different ways.
“They were putting the ball in smart places and fast, and we weren’t able to pick it up like we were hoping to,” Buck said. “But we did well.”
In the third game, the Hilltoppers threatened to cruise to the finish line on a handful of occasions, but Geneva’s own resilience kept it around.
Buck smacked consecutive kills and watched a Glenbard West back row attack violation trim a 22-15 deficit to 22-18.
Moments later, Taylor Marmitt collected a kill and the Hilltoppers committed another error to bring the score to 24-21 Glenbard West.
“We tried our hardest out there,” Buck said. “It was a really tough game, and it was really neck-and-neck at the end and throughout the whole game, so I think we were really close, both of our teams. They just were able to pull it out at the end. They’re a really great team.”
Dalheim had 41 digs, providing back-line support to steady net play that included eight blocks by Maddie Courter and five each from Hannah Lanasa, Jess Wicinski and Marmitt.
Lanasa added nine kills, while Courtney Caruso dished 19 assists.
Benefiting from a shorter commute, Geneva’s student section outnumbered the Hilltoppers’ and remained vocal until the end. The customary “Thank you seniors!” chant was among the group’s last, saluting a roster that featured 10.
“We never really overpowered anybody. We had to really function well as a team and really play hard,” Vikings coach KC Johnsen said. “We kept asking them to do that right down to the last ball. I don’t really have anything profound. It was a pretty remarkable season.”