No one said it was going to be easy.
On Wednesday night against Geneseo, the La Salle-Peru volleyball team was again without senior setter Heather Smith, who continued to be sideline with an ankle injury.
Senior middle hitter Kalli Herron started experiencing back pains midway through the match against the Maple Leafs.
L-P then went three agonizing and nail-biting games against its NCIC Reagan Division opponents from the West.
The Lady Cavaliers still managed to earn a second straight NCIC Reagan Division championship, albeit in dramatic fashion, with a 25-16, 19-25, 25-23 Reagan victory at La Salle-Peru.
L-P is now 10-0 in the Reagan with one match remaining next Thursday at home against Sterling, while Geneseo is now 8-3.
"It's nice to clinch the conference (Wednesday) night," La Salle-Peru head coach Mark Haberkorn said. "We found a way to win at the end. It wasn't our sharpest match, but you know what? Champs find that way."
And L-P (26-1, 10-0 in NCIC Reagan) sure found a way against the Maple Leafs (19-9-1, 8-3).
In the third and deciding game, the Lady Cavaliers found themselves trailing by one point at 22-21 following a kill by Geneseo's Kaci Storm, but L-P managed to tie the match at 22-22 on a kill by sophomore Sammi Herron before taking the lead on a momentum-swinging kill by senior right-side hitter Brittnee Wojciechowski.
Wojciechowski's swing fired up the crowd adorned in pink for the Volley for the Cure, but Geneseo quickly responded with a kill by Allison Hudson to again tie the match at 23-23.
With the serve and some energy, Geneseo's Hudson sent her serve into the top of the net and it fell on the Leafs' side for an L-P point.
After the Lady Cavaliers' Sammi Herron sent her serve over the net to the Leaf serve-receive, Geneseo set Abby Lavine, who hit the ball well past the back line and out of bounds to clinch L-P the victory and the conference title.
"It was really exciting, but everybody really came together at the end," said junior setter Courtney Carey, who finished with 30 assists and 10 digs in the win. "I am really glad we came out and pulled through."
L-P hammered the Leafs in game one, turning a 9-9 score into a 17-11 lead thanks to four kills from Kalli Herron and one each from Wojciechowski and Sammi Herron.
A kill and a block by Sammi Herron and a kill by Kalli Herron drove the L-P lead to 20-12, and despite a small Leaf run, two kills by L-P senior Alyssa Tomaszewski and one by Wojciechowski helped put Geneseo away.
"I haven't been in a match this close in a long time," Carey said. "It's really good because then we start playing better. It really helps us work together, and we need that."
The second game didn't end so well.
Geneseo again hung around all the way through, even though it fell behind by two points at 18-16 on a trio of Kalli Herron points.
The Maple Leafs pulled it together, tied the match at 18-18 and then out-scored the Lady Cavaliers 7-1 down the stretch behind two kills and a block by Kaci Storm and one kill and one block by Hudson.
"I think we got some good blocks in there," Geneseo head coach Rachel Tharp said. "Allie Hudson did a really great job for us up front with the blocks. We were hitting them pretty well."
L-P lost an 18-13 lead in the third game as Geneseo followed with a 7-1 run that built a 20-19 lead thanks to strong net play by Hudson, who finished with six blocks in the match.
However, behind one final push, some good offense and defense from Tomaszewski and some Leaf errors, L-P pulled out the win.
"Alyssa Tomaszewski, she made that run in game three where she got some kills and then she went to the back row and made tremendous defensive saves," Haberkorn said. "Alyssa Tomaszewski had a lot to do with our victory (Wednesday) night. She is one of those players who, when she is called upon, answers the call."
Despite some back problems, Kalli Herron led L-P with 12 kills, seven coming in the first game, and she also had six points with two aces.
Wojciechowski and Tomaszewski each put down seven kills, and Sammi Herron had six.
Kaci Storm and Nicole Adams each led Geneseo with six kills.
Notes: The L-P sophomores defeated Geneseo 25-20, 25-13, and the L-P freshman rolled to a 25-8, 25-10 win over Geneseo.
Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.