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Girls Volleyball: Sandburg wins 18th straight regional crown

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By Steve Millar 
Correspondent

Sandburg’s girls volleyball team faced off with Lincoln-Way Central twice in the regular season. Both were hard-fought three-set matches, but the Knights beat the Eagles both times.

Still, senior outside hitter Claire Hildebrand was optimistic heading into the teams’ third meeting in Thursday’s Class 4A Rich Township Regional championship game.

“I really didn’t go into this thinking this could be my last game,” Hildebrand said. “I knew our team could pull it off, even though we lost to them twice in the regular season. I came into this really confident. At the beginning, I said I wasn’t nervous at all.

“Our team is a never-give-up team. We get really angry when we lose so we kind of reflect off that and we’re able to use that to take control of everything.”

Hildebrand helped the Eagles turn the tables on the Knights, pulling out a three-set win, 19-25, 25-21, 25-19.

Hildebrand led Sandburg (22-15) with 13 kills. Madi Mulhausen had six kills, while Elise Sterling had five kills and two blocks.

The Eagles, who advanced to take on top-seeded Lincoln-Way East in the Lockport Sectional semifinal on Oct. 31, won the program’s 18th straight regional championship.

“We’re proud of that streak and I’m very confident that the team next year will also be able to do that,” Hildebrand said. “I hope I can come home from college to cheer them on.”

This year, the regional title is a little sweeter with the Eagles coming in as the five seed and the underdog against the fourth-seeded Knights (27-10).

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been an underdog in a regional,” Sandburg coach David Vales said. “We used that as our motivation and we kind of shined because of it.”

Vales felt his team was due for a win over Lincoln-Way Central.

“When two good teams meet, eventually you feel like it’s going to go the other way,” he said. “We’ve been working toward that. The second time we played them was literally our worst match of the season and it went three still.

“So, we knew if we could play better we had a chance.”

Hildebrand took over in the third set, coming up with six kills and an ace and reeling off six straight points from the service line.

“The last time we played them, she had eight hitting errors,” Vales said of Hildebrand. “We knew that was never going to happen again. She had 13 kills and I think that’s her season-high for kills. She did it at the service line. She made very few mistakes. She just does it all. How she goes is how we go.”

Sandburg jumped to an 8-2 lead in the third set but let Lincoln-Way Central rally all the way back for a 14-13 edge. It was reminiscent of the first set, when the Eagles also led 8-2 before letting it slip away.

This time, though, Hildebrand made sure it would be different. Her kill tied it at 14-14 and her ace gave Sandburg the lead for good. Those two plays started a 7-0 run for the Eagles, with Hildebrand serving for the final six points.

“The biggest thing is we just started connecting more with our passes and our sets,” Hildebrand said. “Our serve receive got a lot better so our setter was able to set closer to the net and I was able to just hit away. When I go up to the net, I really don’t have anything else in mind except for a kill. I don’t really think about anything else.”

Camryn Donausky produced an ace on match point and the Eagles were able to celebrate yet another regional title.

“Third time’s the charm,” Mulhausen said of the Eagles’ battles with the Knights. “We all thought, ‘One more.’ This couldn’t be our last game.”

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