BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington High School senior Avery Carr called it "nerve racking" to try to beat a team for a third time in a season, particularly a rival.
Any jitters that may have been dancing around inside the veteran Purple Raiders went away late in the first set Monday night at the Robert Frank Sports Complex.
Trailing 19-18, BHS used a 7-0 run to close out a 25-19 win over Normal West. The Raiders also won the second set 25-19 to earn a spot in Wednesday night's Class 4A BHS Sectional title match.
"I think we started to make a few less unforced errors," Carr said of the first-set surge. "We talked about what we needed to do to execute the game plan and we just really executed."
The 5-foot-11 Carr, one of four senior starters, had eight kills in helping BHS improve to 31-4. Senior Leah Anderson had a team-high 12 kills, while junior Corinna Jones led in assists with 19 and junior Fia Parker had 16 digs.
Jones added 13 digs as the Raiders advanced to face O'Fallon at 6 p.m. Wednesday. BHS is looking to extend a season-long ride that saw the Raiders go unbeaten in the Big 12 Conference.
"When the season started we knew we wanted to go far," Carr said. "We had a lot of seniors on this team, really talented players. We just decided, 'This is our season.'"
Carr had two kills in a 6-0 second-set run that gave BHS a 13-7 lead. West pulled within two points on three occasions, but a kill by senior Grace Sanders started the Raiders on a match-ending 5-1 surge.
"We didn't do everything right, but this group of kids is real mature," said BHS coach Joe Sanders, Grace's father. "They've played a long time together, not just here but they've been playing club ball together for five or six years.
"These girls have literally played hundreds of matches together. They've played in big matches all over the U.S. That helps."
Like Carr, the BHS coach was relieved to get past West for a third time. The teams met two weeks ago for the Big 12 title.
"We just have a couple of more weapons. But they have some tremendous hitters too," Joe Sanders said. "They (the Wildcats) were just a little out of system (late in the first set) and that forced them to go outside all the time, which helped us a little.
"Our defense in transition was pretty good. We didn't make hardly any hitting errors and that was the difference."
Six-one standout freshman Averie Hernandez pounded out 12 kills to lead West (25-12), while senior Carley Baughman added six.
Senior Dara Kane handed out 19 assists, Aniya Monla had 10 digs and Kane added two blocks.
Wildcats' coach Kelsey Mueller called BHS "a really good team that started to turn it up a notch toward the end of that (first) game."
"This has been their varsity team for three years now. You expect that from them," Mueller said. "We really believed we could do it. We worked really hard in the gym. We have quite a few seniors as well. I was proud of the way they stepped up and took on the challenge."
BHS' next challenge is an O'Fallon team the Raiders faced early in the season at the Edwardsville Invitational.
"They were kicking our butts," Joe Sanders said. "it was like 17-9 and we came back and beat them 26-24. Then we won the second set.
"They're similar to us. They play really good defense, have a couple of really good hitters. At least it's somebody we've seen."