LOWELL | As a fourth consecutive sectional championship came nearer and nearer, point by point, some players were numb, and some had shaky hands.
Others, such as Caley Mintz, were "pee-your-pants excited."
For a team that's been in numerous girls volleyball sectional title matches and now won 14 of those, Munster was atypically anxious. That's because Saturday's 25-22, 26-24, 25-14 sweep of Lake Central in the Class 4A Lowell Sectional wasn't completed by a typical Munster team.
This squad had balance from top to bottom. No one had a preseason deal with a Division I university. There weren't a lot of expectations placed on the Mustangs.
The players, however, held themselves to a high standard and now have 30 wins and a home regional match Tuesday. In three matches in the sectional, Munster did not lose a set.
"We've had so many great, talented players who left and went on to play in college," said Mintz, a 5-foot-10 senior middle hitter who had three aces in Munster's second sweep of L.C. this season.
"People didn't expect a lot out of us. We have no star player, but we're very cohesive."
Rebuilding didn't take a year. The Mustangs (30-7) just grew up in a hurry, as did a few youngsters with star potential. Growth combined with senior leadership was a winning combo.
"I'm just so proud of the girls and overcome with joy with the way they played and adjusted throughout the match," Munster coach Tracy Afman said. "I think what we would have done in some similar situations at the start of the year and realize the girls have improved so much."
Sophomore Elizabeth "Bitsy" Kloos, who never moved past the freshman team last season, was an integral part of Saturday's championship with six solo blocks. Fellow soph Shannon Farrell, who wasn't on varsity last season, had the final three kills of the match and finished with a team-high nine.
"With this team it's so much harder to figure out who the ball is going to," Mintz said.
Kloos added: "The blocker has to worry about all of us and can't lean to one side."
Kloos and Farrell combined on a crucial block to tie the second game at 23. L.C. had led 23-17 and was in control for most of the game before fading.
"We didn't execute," L.C. coach Tina Tinberg said. "Our team didn't want the ball enough to terminate the ball for two more points.
"That kind of deflated us."
L.C. (21-14), which had its highest win total in years and was second in the DAC, had the more tortuous path to the championship. The Indians survived a five-game battle with host Lowell and prevailed 17-25, 25-22, 25-20, 11-25, 15-12 to eliminate the Red Devils. One of six Indians seniors, Sarah Anderson had 17 assists and 12 digs in the marathon.
Meanwhile, Munster bounced Morton with relative ease in the latter morning semifinal, winning 25-5, 25-12, 25-7.