PONTIAC — The University High School volleyball team ventured into the land of the unknown on Monday night and came away with a resounding 25-16, 25-16 win over New Lenox Providence in the semifinals of the Class 3A Pontiac Sectional.
"You don't really know what to expect coming into a sectional match with a team that you've never seen before," said U High coach Mike Bolhuis. "So we just took the same approach. We just try to go out and execute and control our side and we did a good job of that tonight."
Like in baseball, "hitting it where they ain't" is key in volleyball and a stout Pioneers' defense gave the Providence swingers little open space from start to finish, helping U High to a pair of 4-0 and 5-0 runs en route to the opening set win.
"I thought our back row play was excellent on defense, making (the Providence) job offensively as difficult as possible, just being in the right spot and executing," Bolhuis said.
The mini-surges continued in the second set as well to pave the way for U High into Wednesday's 6 p.m. title match against Manteno, the winner of Monday night's opening semifinal.
"With our emphasis on defense, which is really what we talk about the most, as well as working in transition from an attacking perspective, it's our hope that teams are having a hard time scoring on us and we're making their job as difficult as possible offensively," Bolhuis said.
"I think that's where those runs come from, defensively doing your job and then doing a good job in transition attacking."
Isabel Schaefbauer and Jessica McDowell led the Pioneers' offensive attack with eight kills apiece. Macy Tongate added seven.
McDowell also had a twisting, diving save of an errant volley to keep a play alive and result in a point in one of U High's first-set runs.
"Her athleticism is very evident," Bolhuis said. "She just makes plays that a lot of people wouldn't make. She's very quick, jumps very high, hits hard and just uses her athleticism and has good results."
Providence coach Lisa Muys was particularly impressed with the U High hitters after seeing her Celtics' season end at 21-19.
"They ran a really nice offense and have a lot of nice players," Muys said. "Their swinging, their hits and their attack gave us the most problems."
That was a potent combination in combating the strength of Providence's small but quick unit.
"Usually defense and serve receive is our game because we're so small," she said. "U High is just a good team and I think they're going to be playing for a while."
The Pioneers (26-10) went to work on using their size advantage in the second set.
"We said after the first set we were hoping to find a couple blocks in the second set and really focus on our blocking from a timing perspective," Bolhuis said. "We did that at the beginning of the second set and found a couple of blocks."
Schaefbauer and Abbey Collins teamed up for one of the blocks that helped U High expand a 6-5 lead into a 17-9 cushion heading down the stretch.
Schaefbauer also had 13 assists with Alexis Engst adding 12 helpers. Kimmy Sendelbach had 10 digs.