LAKE STATION | Down its greatest deficit in the sectional opener to Bishop Noll, Wheeler's volleyball team responded with its strongest rally to win a decisive Game 4.
"I tell them all the time, if it's not for each other, what are they playing for," Bearcats coach Alisha Polite said. "It's about them and playing for each other. They picked it back up."
Wheeler topped Noll 25-22, 24-26, 25-23, 25-17 to advance to Saturday's semifinal against River Forest, which won the second match against Lake Station 25-21, 25-14, 25-22.
Bishop Noll, which fell to Wheeler in four games Sept. 29, knew where to find the Bearcats weaknesses. Wheeler fell behind in each match, rallied, only to have Noll start a rally in return.
"We had never fought like this before," Bishop Noll senior Elena Palomo said. "It was great that everyone came out and really knew what this game meant."
Ahead 24-18 in the first game, Wheeler was forced into several errors as Noll scored four straight points to keep the game close.
"Bishop Noll is a very tough team to play against," Polite said. "They play a tough game and they're very scrappy. They forced us into a lot of our errors."
Haley Plothow and Shannon Doyle each had 14 kills to lead Wheeler and all scorers. Natalie Roe made 19 assists and Steph Beck had 17.
Carissa Jones' 12 kills paced the Warriors (16-16), who won't play on in a semifinal for the first time in more than a dozen years.
In the second match, River Forest dominated the first two games with an attack that sent Lake Station into several unforced errors.
Unwilling to give up their home court so easily, Lake Station fought back from a 15-9 deficit in the third game to take a lead at 18-17 before River Forest used a pair of Eagles errors and two kills from Paris Moore for the sweep.
With both a conference matchup and the postseason, the Ingots dominated their rivals 6-0.
"When we go for the win, we win big," coach Patty Sparks said. "We fight through a lot and we have excellent senior leadership and a great freshman hitter."
Sophomore Caylyn Bellar led River Forest (13-13) with 11 kills and senior Desiree Swartz chipped in 26 assists with a perfect 23-for-23 serving. Freshman Alondra Avalos added a pair of big blocks, including the last one to seal the final game.
The Eagles (3-22) rallied in all three sets, but their lack of speed hurt, coach Linda Llewellyn said.
"We never gave up, but we hurt ourselves with putting the ball into the net and not being as aggressive going to the balls as we should have," Llewellyn said. "We needed our blockers to be there tonight, because we're not a very fast team. If we can slow the ball down a little bit, we can get on it."
Lake Station was paced by four kills and three assists with an ace from Tonya Blair. Kariann Shiller added six assists and Jessica Smee had three kills.