GLEN ELLYN – Elizabeth Dunlap was the youngest player on the floor for Downers Grove North Wednesday – but she was the one most in control.
Dunlap, a 5-foot-8 sophomore setter, spread out 34 assists among seven different hitters to lead the Trojans to an historic victory at the Class 4A Glenbard West Sectional final.
Top-seeded Downers Grove North’s thrilling 25-15, 20-25, 25-23 victory over second-seeded Glenbard West in front of a raucous partisan crowd gave the Trojans their first sectional championship since 1988 and a berth in Friday’s Geneva Supersectional against St. Charles North.
"It's so cool,” Dunlap said. “I never thought we would make it this far, but with all of our hard work, it was worth it.
"I'm so happy and excited right now. I think we can win state – you never know.”
The Trojans (27-12) have never won state and are not favored to this year. But if Dunlap keeps directing the offense the way she did against Glenbard West, they will be in every game.
“She was very sharp,” Downers North coach Mark Wasik said. “I saw the way the ball was coming out of her hands tonight.
“I was like, ‘She’s really on,’ and she was a difference-maker tonight because she mixed it up and her location was really good.”
Dunlap had 11 assists as the Trojans easily won the first set. She continued her high level even as the Hilltoppers (29-10) staved off defeat with a stunning 8-0 run to capture the second set.
“I thought our serve-receive was working really well,” Dunlap said. “We were communicating a lot even with the intense gym and the loudness.
“It was really easy to see my hitters and where they were. It was a good game.”
Indeed, both teams competed well, especially in a tight third set. North led by as many as four points only to see the Hilltoppers twice take a one-point lead. The game was tied at 23 when Dunlap set Villanova-bound Clare Delaplane for a spike. A Glenbard hitting error ended it.
“It was really hard but I was happy we were able to overcome it,” Dunlap said. “Wasik told us it might get intense but no one thought it would get that intense and rowdy, too. We had to have tunnel vision.”
Delaplane led all players with 13 kills, while Margaret Mahlke had 11 kills. Maddie Degiorgio and Jade Casper added six and five kills, respectively.
“I felt like we could have pushed more at the end of that second set, but I just love how our team battled and played point-for-point in the third set,” Delaplane said. “We played loose and played together and it worked out in our favor.”
Nina Crawford spiked 11 kills and Virginia Curtis had 10 for Glenbard West. The Hilltoppers were playing without their best player, Ananda Patterson, who was injured in the previous match.
“I'm proud of these kids,” said Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea, whose team reached the sectional final for the third time in the past five years. “We just weren't’t going to quit.
"It'ss been a great year. (We were) unranked, unheralded and we just kept using that as fuel and energy.”