Prairie Ridge senior Sammi Lockwood grabbed onto and raised the Class 4A Grayslake Central Sectional championship plaque high into the air as her Wolves teammates surrounded her in celebration.
Moments later, senior Jayden Otto reached for the gold-tinted plaque for pictures and selfies.
"It's everything," said Otto, wearing a black T-shirt with the words "Not Done Yet" on the front. "It's our last hurrah. We're just playing our hearts out together as a team."
Otto hopes Prairie Ridge's 25-13, 25-19 sweep over crosstown rival Crystal Lake Central in the sectional final Wednesday (the team's third win over the Tigers this season) is only the beginning.
The Wolves (28-10) face Loyola Academy (30-8) in a Gurnee Warren Supersectional at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will move on to the state tournament at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal.
Prairie Ridge last went to state in 2004 and 2005, placing runner-up both years. The sectional championship was the program's first since 2012 and sixth in program history, all under coach Stefanie Otto, now in her 22nd season.
"I've never been a part of a team to win sectionals," said Lockwood, who had 18 combined kills during sectional play, leading her team both matches. "It's the biggest thing I've experienced at this school."
The Wolves won the Fox Valley Conference championship, losing only once in 16 conference matches, but went through a difficult stretch in October – dropping eight of 11 matches at one point.
Prairie Ridge was without four-year setter Jayden Otto, who suffered a stress fracture in her right foot, for three weeks. The Wolves shuffled their lineup and moved junior Hannah Baudin, one of the team's top attackers, to setter.
Otto's first match back was in an FVC championship-clinching win over Cary-Grove – the last match before the postseason.
Otto's connection on the court with her teammates is evident. Otto and Lockwood, specifically, played all but one year together in club volleyball.
"No matter where the set is, they feed into each other a little bit," Tigers coach Lisa Brunstrum said after Wednesday's sectional final loss to Prairie Ridge. "I think Jayden does a really good job of leading [Lockwood] one way or another to make her an unpredictable hitter."
Lockwood, a Notre Dame commit, leads the Wolves in kills, but the team has many threats for opposing defenses to contend with – including seniors Olivia Annen and Maddie McGuire and juniors Trinity Sheridan, a UNLV commit, and Baudin.
Sophomore libero Olivia Jost leads the team defensively, and junior Alexis Kantner and senior Anna Tulke, both defensive specialists, are two of the Wolves' top servers – along with Annen, Baudin and Jost.
Loyola Academy survived four match points in the second set in a 19-25, 26-24, 25-18, win against Hersey in a Loyola Sectional semifinal win Monday. The Ramblers then defeated Fremd, 25-19, 25-18, in Wednesday's sectional final.
Prairie Ridge's sectional final win against rival Central was a big step for the Wolves' state championship dreams. Last season, the Tigers beat the Wolves, 22-25, 25-22, 27-25, in a Wauconda Sectional final and went on to place third at state.
"It was a big deal to come back and show them that this is a new team," Annen said. "We're coming to get them, and we're going for a state championship. We're ready to play and win."