McHENRY — When the ball hit the gymnasium floor for the final point of Huntley's thrilling Fox Valley Conference victory over McHenry Tuesday, the Red Raiders' bench stormed the floor, then celebrated jubilantly in front of their fans.
They had every reason to. Huntley (6-0, 6-0 FVC) rallied from an eight-point deficit late in the third set, staved off a McHenry match point — and ultimately held on for a 25-16, 19-25, 28-26 win that kept them unbeaten in 2017.
Raiders outside hitter Julia Johnson, who had a team-best 11 kills, didn't hold back when asked to assess what she'd just been a part of.
"Honestly, this is the best feeling in the world right now," Johnson said. "The swing of emotions from us being down so many points, compared to this moment ... it's just unbelievable. We could have folded. We could have quit. But we didn't. We stepped up as a team and showed what we're all made of."
Trailing 18-10 in the third set, Huntley coach Karen Naymola called a timeout, then asked her players to dig deep.
"I told them during the timeout, 'Every single one of you has to find a way to contribute the rest of the way in this match,' " Naymola said. "If you're gonna beat a good team like McHenry, you have to have six people out there finding ways to score, giving that effort on defense, and finding ways to work together.
"We fell apart and started playing as individuals too much in the second and third sets prior to that timeout. After that point, the girls weren't trying to do to much, but instead started trusting each other and working and communicating as one unit."
She also praised the efforts of sophomore Taylor Jakubowski (20 digs, four aces, 33 assists), freshman Emma Konie (10 kills) and junior Riley Seibert.
"Riley had a pair of aces late in that third set, and honestly, she gave us that huge spark we needed at that moment," Naymola said. "She came in off the bench and stepped up. That's not an easy thing to do, especially in a match that was as emotionally charged as this one was."
Last fall, McHenry lost in similar fashion to Huntley for a regional title. That match also needed extra time to determine a winner, as the Raiders held on for a 27-25 third-set win.
"It's just heartbreaking for our girls to go through a similar scenario, and come up just short yet again," Warriors coach Lexi Algrim said. "We came into this game looking for revenge. We were aggressive. We played smart for the most part. We just couldn't finish. But I do think we set the bar today for how we need to play the rest of the way."
Seniors Paige Hale and Liz Alsot, who had eight kills each, did everything in their power to spark the Warriors (8-3, 3-3), but it wasn't enough, despite a rowdy student section cheering them on.
"It comes down to confidence," Alsot said. "When we had that big lead late, I think we just kind of coasted and expected to win, instead of going full-force, and this was the end result. We've got to learn to finish. Plain and simple."
Star of the Match
Huntley, jr., defensive specialist
Huntley turned to Seibert off the bench late in the third set, and she delivered a pair of aces. "We award a 'Wonder Woman' award each match, and we gave it to Riley for the spark she gave us," Huntley coach Karen Naymola said.
1: The number of seniors on Huntley's roster, yet they still sit atop the Northwest Herald's area power rankings.
And Another Thing...
Many of Huntley outside hitter Julia Johnson's 11 kills were thunderous spikes, including one that gave her team the lead for good in the waning moments.