It could have been exhaustion.
It was more excitement, though, that had Shepard’s Nikki Alex searching not for words, but air after the host Astros beat Stagg in a pulse-pounding Class 4A regional semifinal Tuesday 22-25, 25-20, 25-21.
“All the adrenalin and the excitement of playoffs, it was so exciting,” she said. “The playoffs are about… ohhhhhh. Sorry, out of breath.
“Playoffs are about upsets and we just wanted to shut them down and show them that we could do it.”
For Alex, it was all about digging. The senior libero had 15 – many of them on monster hits by Stagg’s power hitters. Sisters Abbey and Caroline Graham added 10 digs each, while Amanda Carberry and Chasz Wells chipped in three blocks each.
On the offensive side, Kendall Yerkes had 17 kills, Abbey Graham 11 kills, Chasz Wells seven kills and Caroline Graham 32 assists as Shepard (30-6) earned a spot in Thursday’s regional final against Lyons.
The 30 wins also tied Shepard’s all-time win record set in 1991.
Stagg (19-17) was led by Lexi Mantas (13 kills, 17 digs), Ari Mantas (10 kills), Amanda Collins (14 digs) and Maddie Duffner (26 assists).
The two teams had a similar slugfest in pool play at the Oak Lawn Tournament, with Shepard also losing the first game and prevailing in three.
“We knew coming in that they were going to be a really hard team to beat,” Yerkes said. “We both prepared and practiced really hard, I’m sure. We’re just really happy we beat them.”
Stagg caught the final wave in a back-and-forth Game 1, a set dump by Duffner and an ace serve by Ari Mantas accounting for the final two points.
The bounceback this time wasn’t necessarily with a roar, but the Astros never played from behind in either Games 2 or 3.
A big reason was that Stagg couldn’t get on any runs. The sisters Mantas were swinging freely and powerfully only to have the Astros back row, Alex in particular, step up.
“Their defense was impeccable,” Stagg coach Deanna Storino said. “At the end we had a hard time putting the ball away. They had flawless defense.”
Big at the net were the 5-8 Carberry and 5-11 Wells, both of whom had critical blocks at critical times. Wells also put down a handful of quick sets from Caroline Graham for clutch kills.
One of Graham’s kills, which was followed by an ace by Abbey Graham, sealed the verdict in Game 2. In Game 3, Wells rose up for a block to stop a late mini-rally by Stagg, setting the table for a match-ending kill by Briana Haugh.
Lyons (32-4), which defeated Shepard twice this season, beat Bolingbrook 25-17, 25-14, as Jessi Skonning (five kills), Toni Saracco (eight digs) and Hannah Juley (23 assists) led the way.