GURNEE – Late in the second set of Monday's Class 4A Warren Sectional semifinal, with her team two points away from victory, Cary-Grove senior middle blocker Alexis German peeked at the scoreboard during a brief pause in the match.
It showed her No. 2-seeded Trojans with a commanding eight-point lead over No. 3-seeded Stevenson.
The ensuing smirk that came out of the right corner of German's mouth a few seconds later was noticeable, and one of complete and utter gratification.
But below the surface, there was more to her reaction than met the eye, as C-G cruised to a 25-21, 25-16 victory to advance to Wednesday's sectional title match against top-seeded Libertyville.
"I was super excited because I knew we were about to close things out," German said. "Stevenson has been a big rival of ours. They took us out of the playoffs last season. We hadn't forgotten about that.
"So when I looked up at the scoreboard, it was just all of those things kind of dawning on me in that moment, and how much it all meant."
What it meant was the Trojans (28-10) meant business from the outset. C-G trailed during the first five points of the first set, but after taking a 4-3 lead, it never trailed again.
That's because the Trojans played cleanly, committing only three unforced errors in each set. They got unselfish play from Jenna Splitt (11 assists, four kills), Evynn Layshock (five kills) and Lauren Passaglia (11 assists, six kills, five blocks, two aces). All three played as if they completely understood the importance of each moment.
"We've spent a lot of time studying film preparing for teams," Passaglia said. "Figuring out what their tendencies are. We knew where a lot of their hitters were gonna hit. And we knew where to set up the block for them as well."
The end result was a stark contrast to the last time they faced Stevenson, during 2018's regional title loss.
"A lot of our calm in this match came from Evynn Layshock," Trojans coach Patty Langanis said. "It rubbed off on her teammates. She's the leader on the court. Last year, we lost our composure during the state playoffs when we played Stevenson. This year, we've focused on making sure nothing bothers us too much"
It showed on Monday's stat sheet. During the first set, the Trojans didn't allow the Patriots (23-15) to score more than three consecutive points. They were even more dominant defensively in the second set, when they didn't allow Stevenson to score more than two points in a row at any point.
It collectively added up to the victory having an almost machine-like, polished feel to it. Langanis was quick to caution her team, however.
"We have to get right back to work," Langanis said. "Libertyville is a heck of a team. And we're going to start watching film immediately. We're gonna have our work cut out for us."
C-G senior Mia Soltis (six digs) continued her top-notch play at libero, while Julia Rice (three kills) and freshman starter Tricia Kennedy (two kills) provided support at the middle blocker and outside hitter positions.
The last time the Trojans won a sectional title was in 2015. They'll have that chance Wednesday, if they play their cards right again.
"It's fun seeing these girls be able to celebrate a little bit here tonight on the court after winning," Langanis said. "But the way the tournament is set up, there's no time to celebrate for too long. We need to come in Wednesday as mentally and physically prepared as we can."
STAR OF THE MATCH
Cary-Grove, jr., setter/right side
Passaglia had a hand in every aspect of her team's victory, finishing with 11 assists, six kills, five blocks and a pair of aces.
5: Points out of 87 total during which Cary-Grove trailed in Monday's match.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
Going downstate no longer is a pipe dream for the surging Trojans.
"Redbird Arena," Passaglia said. "That's what we've been saying. That's been our goal from Day 1. We've been working so hard."