ROLLING MEADOWS – The St. Charles East boys volleyball team waited 17 years to claim the program’s first regional championship.
So the Saints didn’t mind having to go three tight, tense games in order to finally earn the title, defeating York, 21-25, 25-22, 25-23, to win the Rolling Meadows Regional title Wednesday.
The Saints, seeded 12th in the Bartlett Sectional, move on to Friday’s Bartlett Sectional semifinal against Lake Park. York, the 14th seed, ends its season at 13-19.
“It’s incredible, to get the first [regional] in school history,” said Saints outside hitter Luke Spicer, who led East with 19 kills. “It’s an awesome thing to be a part of.”
“It’s amazing. To be honest with you, I’m still kind of shocked,” Saints coach Kate McCullagh added. “We really worked hard for this. Last season, Luke and Iain [O’Connor] said, Coach, we’re going to get you a [regional title],’ and it’s so amazing it came true. It’s awesome.”
After losing Game 1 – which included 11 ties – the Saints rebounded in the second game, another tight battle with 10 ties. After the final tie at 20-all, East’s Tom DeBruyne had two aces and Jacob Samuels a kill for a 23-20 lead.
The Dukes fought back to cut the lead to 23-22, but East took the game on a kill by Robert Kudlicki and a Dukes kill attempt that went out of bounds.
“We’ve been in the situation before, even [Tuesday] against Wheaton Academy, where we lost the first game and won the next two,” Spicer said. “We tried to use our experience. We knew what we had to do, and we pulled through.
“We knew we had to pick up our defense, get good sets and put the ball down. We executed our game plan.”
In Game 3, the Saints broke open a tight game to take a 13-7 lead on a kill by Tom Dieter and a 17-11 lead on a kill by O’Connor (14 kills).
However, York came back to cut the lead to 19-17, forcing McCullagh to use a timeout.
Her team responded with back-to-back kills by Spicer to take a 21-17 lead.
York did not go away, cutting the lead to 22-21 before a kill by Dieter and a Dukes’ illegal hit got the Saints to game point, 24-21.
The Dukes fought off two game points, but their attempt to tie the game on a kill went wide, setting off a wild Saints’ celebration.
“It’s a roller coaster,” Spicer said. “We don’t want the game to get out of hand and give the momentum back to them.”
“My heart is still pounding,” McCullagh said. “There was a point where I said to myself, ‘We finally have a decent lead and we’re going to give it away right now?’
“But we took a timeout, refocused, everybody looked each other in the eye, realized we loved each other, we’re all here to have fun, we all have the same goal, and we went out there refocused and ready to win the game.”
DeBruyne had 18 assists. Sam Pulcanio added 14 digs, Samuels had 18 digs and three kills and Dieter smacked five kills.