TINLEY PARK — The home crowd was whipped into a frenzy when Tinley Park ran off eight straight points in the first set to take a 13-10 lead Friday night in the Class 3A Tinley Park Volleyball Super-Sectional.
University High School's Illyana Lin claimed she wasn't concerned. In fact, the senior outside hitter relished the noisy atmosphere.
“I love listening to crowds egg me on. It makes me really excited,” said Lin. “I like playing more in other people's gym than our own.”
The Pioneers didn't panic and are now headed back home for their first state tournament in 17 years. U High kept on its postseason roll by downing the Titans, 25-19, 25-16. The Pioneers have not dropped a set in five postseason victories.
Next up for U High, which improved to 28-10, is a semifinal appearance against Belleville Althoff (39-1) at 5:30 p.m. next Friday at Redbird Arena.
Tinley Park (25-13) used some sharp serving by left-hander Addison Sopko, along with 6-foot-3 sophomore Emily Kleffman at the net, to overcome a 10-5 deficit in the first set. But when Kleffman's kill attempt went long, U High stopped the Titans' momentum.
“We were making a lot of errors out of serve receive and not really giving ourselves an opportunity to play defense and work in transition, which is everything we try to do,” said U High second-year coach Mike Bolhuis. “They took a deep breath and kind of relaxed and allowed themselves to get out of serve receive and work from there.”
U High senior middle hitter Addy Loeffler said the key was the Pioneers “kept our composure.”
“We knew we were going to get it done. We knew we had to,” said Loeffler, who delivered a team-high seven kills. “We had to calm ourselves down and take control again.”
U High took the lead for good with sophomore Isabel Schaefbauer serving seven straight points for a 22-16 lead. Tinley Park coach Lee Rucinski said an injury late in the season forced the Titans to change their serve receive.
“Now we have people serve receiving who hadn't done it all year,” said Rucinski. “That makes a difference when you come against a team like the Pioneers that had a solid serve.”
Loeffler blocked Kleffman as U High took a 24-18 lead, and one point later Macy Tongate's tip over the net gave U High the first set.
“Our defense gave us a confidence boost because we stopped their best hitter,” said Loeffler.
Tinley Park kept it close for a while in the second set until Schaefbauer again got to serve. When she was done, the Pioneers turned a 14-13 lead into a commanding 22-13 advantage.
“Isabel went on a couple serving runs tonight in which she was putting on a lot of pressure, keeping them out of system,” said Bolhuis. “It made our defense a little easier and then we were working in transition.”
Schaefbauer contributed 18 service points, 17 assists, four kills and three aces for the Pioneers. Jessica McDowell led the defense with four digs. Lin and Tongate added five kills each.
“We scouted them and we knew we had a tough task today,” said Rucinski. “We played really hard, but I think the better team won.”
Some U High players weren't even born when the Pioneers won the second of back-to-back Class A state titles in 2000. U High had advanced to the super-sectional three times since then, but failed to get back to state.
“Sitting and talking in our huddles it feels like we deserve it because we've worked so hard,” said Lin. “As a program we have been through so much with a coaching staff that is entirely new. It's the greatest thing I've ever experienced. I've been playing since fifth grade and have never been so happy.”