For Lincoln-Way Central’s Connor Hipelius, the tough to swallow regular season loss to Sandburg was a thing of the past, and it was going to stay there.
The same for the Knights’ late season struggles.
A different, more energized team took the court Wednesday and Lincoln-Way Central pulled off the upset in a 25-18, 19-25, 25-3 win over host Sandburg for the regional title.
“You’ve got to play for the team and not yourself,” Hipelius said. “I play to pump up the team, get everyone going. You win games that way. The team we have, we’re ready to go, and we can make it all the way to state if we try.”
Lincoln-Way Central (24-13) will play top-seeded Lincoln-Way East Friday night in the Marist Sectional semifinals. The regional tile was the first for Central since 2010.
Sandburg had won 19 straight regional titles before Wednesday.
Hipelius finished with eight kills and five blocks for the Knights, Kyle Nilson (8 kills, 3 aces), Scott Mueller (16 digs), Mike Kulinski (27 assists) and Neal Brown (7 kills) also contributed.
It was Hipelius powering the way early, his closing run in the first set, two blocks and a kill, proved to be the difference.
But if Hipelius was the starter, Nilson was definitely the closer on this night.
The junior outside powered five of his eight kills and all three of his aces with the match on the line in the third set. He saved his best for last, a kill at the net finding a hole in Sandburg’s back row defense.
“That second set, we didn’t expect them to come out as strong as they did,” Nilson said. “We brought it back that third game. We wanted it more. It was a great feeling putting that (last) ball down.”
Sandburg finished the season 28-9 overall. The Eagles were led by Paul Chmura (14 kills), Ian Zalewski (36 assists), Dan Tynski (8 kills), Neil Naughton (8 kills) and Kyle Van Stedum (6 kills).
“They just had a lot more intensity than us,” Chmura said. “They wanted it more than we did. It was just our energy. We had no energy at all, and that ends up being the main reason we lost.”