KNOX | Before the start of the decisive game five, Andrean setter Grace Cooper looked at her coach and said, "I know how to fix this."
Putting 6-foot-4 hitter Marija Nicksic onto a block while Kankakee Valley was trying to slide around her was the perfect solution. It was one that had failed in the past, but Cooper told coach Julie Wiejak it was time to pull the plug.
"When we switch-block people, we sometimes get in trouble, but Coop said, 'We've GOT to take that chance over there,'" Wiejak said. "That was her saying, 'Believe in us, we can do it.'
"It was one of those magical moments that it was something I'd been thinking of, but I didn't have enough guts to pull it and Coop saying it to me was like, 'We'll get it done.'"
Nicksic scored five of her team's first six points in the fifth game, as the 59ers won 25-16, 25-22, 19-25, 24-26, 15-9 to advance to Saturday's 11 a.m. semifinal of the Class 3A Knox Sectional. Andrean will meet the host Redskins, a 25-9, 25-17, 25-15 winner over Rensselaer.
"I love my team, and I realized that our three seniors were not going to be there on our team again if we didn't win this last game," said Nicksic, who finished with 14 kills. "That's when I really wanted to win."
After a decisive first game, the Niners battled to rally in the second game, then gave up a 20-16 lead in game four.
"I said (after game four), 'You have a season's worth of confidence under your feet. It's time to play with courage,'" Wiejak said. "It's a ton of pressure, and you've got to do your job under that pressure. I've seen you all do it before, under more pressure-filled situations and worse circumstances."
Led by 24 kills each from Gabrielle Martin and Danielle Ruesken, the Kougars (22-12) found their fight after game one. Lauren Stokes led all setters with 51 assists.
"We played extremely hard," K.V. coach Rick Ashmore said. "After the first game, I told them they had to play with enthusiasm. They were not playing as their normal, aggressive selves. Once they got more aggressive, they made some runs."
Cooper led Andrean with four aces and 35 assists.
In the second match, host Knox (23-10) led from the outset, a team with five seniors battling a team with one.
The Bombers (7-22) were led by four kills from Aimee Mattocks and Megan Dobson was limited to three kills.
"We've got to get everyone to set the ball, we're short a setter," Rensselaer coach Linda Kaufman said. "Our best hitter is Megan Dobson and when she doesn't get swings, we have no chance of competing."
The winner of the Andrean vs. Knox match will meet the winner of the 12:30 p.m. Hanover Central vs. Calumet match for the sectional title.