CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Illiana Christian was the comeback kid during a pivotal night of volleyball Tuesday against Oak Forest in a Class 3A Marian Catholic Sectional semifinal game.
In the other semifinal, Marian Catholic's bid to play in Thursday's sectional final wasn't as tough of a fight, as the Spartans defeated Queen of Peace 25-15 and 25-15.
The Vikings (25-12) captured nine of the last 10 points against Oak Forest to win the game and then put the finishing touches on a second-game comeback by winning the final three points of the game.
Illiana Christian trailed by nine points early in the second game, then staved off three game points. When Kylie Vanroekel's block fell on the other side of the net between a pair of Bengals, the Vikings closed out a 25-22, 30-28 victory.
That not only advanced the Vikings to Thursday night's final against host Marian Catholic, but it also ended the Bengals' run of knocking the Vikings from the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
"That was amazing," said Viking setter Caroline Toren, who led the Vikings with 14 assists and four points off dump shots. "Winning this match was one of the goals we had written down this season. It feels so good to have worked so hard and finally won."
The Bengals squandered their first two chances to close out the second game with unforced errors. During the Bengals' third chance to even the match at a game apiece, Toren set Vanroekel for a kill to tie the game at 28. Toren then did a back-handed flip of a ball at the net on the next point to give the Vikings the lead before Vanroekel's block sealed the match.
"I knew this was going to be an emotional match tonight," said Vikings coach Nikki Van Dyke, who shed a few tears after the victory. "I gave the players a cheat sheet to memorize from our scouting, and we just executed what we had to do."
Vanroekel had seven kills for the Vikings, while teammates Jaclene Bonnema and Kaylin Kramer added six and five kills, respectively. Felicia Schaap added four kills and seven digs, and served the Vikings from a four-point deficit late in the first game to 24-22 lead.
"Our mental toughness has increased over the season," Schaap said of the comebacks. "And when it was near the end of the second game, we just took it and knew what we had to do to get it done."
The night wasn't as much of a nail-biter for Marian Catholic (22-16) as it defeated Queen of Peace in two straight games.
The Spartans won six of the last seven points to win the first game, then rode a five-point service game by Amber Clay midway through the second game to capture a spot in Thursday's sectional final, which will start at 7 p.m.
Clay had a team-high eight kills and 13 digs to lead the Spartans. Jasmine King and Kelsey Clark each added four kills for the Spartans, while setter Colleen Rynne offered 17 assists.
The Spartan victory was the third time they have defeated the Pride this season.
"The score tonight might have looked the same as the other times we played them, but our team played with more enthusiasm tonight," Clay said. "We didn't underestimate them, we didn't let them creep back up at any point, and we executed."