HOFFMAN ESTATES – Coming into Friday’s IHSA state quarterfinal with Oak Park-River Forest, the St. Charles North boys volleyball team had a favorable 5-3 record in three-game matches.
But as of late, the North Stars record in extra-game matches was 2-2 with their last three-game match being played May 1.
North played its ninth three-game match of the season after an emotional Game 2, and held on for the 25-22, 24-26, 27-25 victory to earn a spot today’s semifinal against Downers Grove South at 11 a.m. at Hoffman Estates High School.
North (31-6) is guaranteed a finish no lower than fourth place, as a loss to Downers Grove South would put them in the third-place match. A victory would advance the North Stars to the championship match against the winner of the Lincoln-Way North/Glenbrook South semifinal.
“These guys have worked so hard to get to this point and I’m so excited for them,” North coach Todd Weimer said. “I knew that we had this even up until the end. We kept our composure and didn’t falter.”
The most pivotal point in the match came on the North Stars’ 26th point in the third game when senior Zach Ziesmer broke a 25-all tie with a perfectly tipped kill on the right-short sideline.
“We practice that play and call it 31,” he said. “It’s a shoot set to me really fast and normally I like to swing hard and straight on that one, but when I saw four hands instead of two on the block I went for the tip.”
It put the momentum in North’s favor as the next point was hit out-of-bounds, giving the North Stars the victory.
“The biggest opponent in this tournament is us,” Weimer said. “Yeah we’re playing Downers Grove South and whoever else in the top bracket, but if we don’t pass, don’t hit and don’t communicate, we’re out just like that.”
North won the first game rather easily as it overcame an 8-6 deficit with a 14-6 scoring run led by a combination of kills from seniors Jonathan Orech, Kevin Beach and Jake Hamilton, but Oak Park-River Forest started to find itself in the latter half of the second set.
After the Huskies fell behind 2-1, they turned the deficit into a 9-4 advantage and later a 21-16 lead after a service ace. But much to the credit of its seniors, North fought its way back to within 21-20 on a block kill from junior Jack Bujko and later tied it twice at 22-all and 23-all on kills from Orech.
It wasn’t until Oak Park-River Forest’s offense came up with two monstrous kills that the Huskies were able to claim the set.
“It was nerve-wracking at times but I just knew we had to get in a situation where we could score a couple more points,” Weimer said. “We fell a little short of that in the second set, but got it done in the third. We’re pretty strong and pretty consistent all the way across no matter what rotation we have in there.”
Orech finished with 15 kills, while Beach added 11. Both Bujko and Hamilton added five each to lead the North Stars.
“We’re not doing anything superhero, we’re not doing anything crazy that’s magical and out of this world, we’re just executing,” Weimer said. “As long as we keep playing sound fundamental volleyball, we’ll keep moving forward.”