NEW LENOX | To say Illiana Chistian's Vikings were freaking out might be an understatement.
The second-seeded Vikings had just dropped the first set of their Class 3A Lincoln-Way West regional semifinal to No. 3 Rich South when, midway through the second, they lost the serve and watched a 13-6 lead become 12-7 when a rotation error was discovered.
After an earlier timeout, coach Nikki Van Dyke put her players on the court in the wrong positions.
"She messed up the lineup," middle hitter Jamie Petrarca said. "It was crazy. The setter and I switched spots. It was a mess."
It didn't stay a mess for long. Janna Vree won the serve back with a kill and Illiana rolled from that point on, posting a 20-25, 25-10, 25-9 win over the Stars (16-13).
The Vikings (22-14) will meet top-seeded Lincoln-Way West (18-13) a 25-8, 25-12 winner over Rich East, in Thursday's title match.
"Can you still see the red mark on my forehead where I hit myself?" Van Dyke asked after the game. "I've made two lineup mistakes my entire coaching career -- one my first year, and now this one.
"I looked right at my assistant coach in the middle of the second game and said, 'If we lose this game, it's my fault.'"
Ultimately, there was little danger of that. Whatever gaps there were in the coach's concentration, Petrarca had long since patched among the players.
Her teammates fretted throughout South's impressive win in the first set, struggling with the block of 5-foot-11 Lachelle Smith and 5-10 Dasia Evens. Smith had no problem finding the range against the Vikings, blasting five of her eight kills on the night as the Stars rebounded from an 18-12 deficit to pull out the set.
Yet, as the teams switched benches between the first and second set, Petrarca danced and jumped in the middle of a team huddle, prompting what might have been the first smiles of the evening from several of her teammates.
"I've had experience in the regionals," she said. "You've just got to be calm and play your game. Some of the less experienced girls seemed very nervous and edgy.
"That was just me trying to get them pumped up."
That the Vikings were nervous at all might have been a surprise, given they've been to four straight sectional title games under Van Dyke.
"This is a big gym," Van Dyke said. "Sucks the sound right out."
Meanwhile, Petrarca sucked the wind out of South's sails. Three of her 10 kills on the night came in the second set after her coach's gaffe. Eventually, Sydnee VanBeek got dialed in as well, six of the sophomore's 10 kills coming in the third set.
On the evening, defensive specialist Katherine Witting had 21 service points and 10 aces.