AURORA – Stella Hunter danced in place during a break in the action Tuesday and raised both hands up in her own personal celebration.
“That’s kind of my thing,” Oswego’s senior outside hitter said through excited giggles. “Getting hyper.”
The Panthers are still dancing, thanks in large part to Hunter.
When she wasn’t providing an emotional lift after big points, Hunter was energizing Oswego with several bit hits from the left pin.
And the 10th-seeded Panthers needed it, outlasting eighth-seeded Batavia in a marathon first set and going on to a 33-31, 25-16 win to advance to Thursday’s Class 4A Metea Valley Regional final.
Three of Hunter’s team-high nine kills came in a critical stretch late in the first set when the teams were going back and forth. She turned away two of Batavia’s three set points, and her third kill pushed Oswego ahead 31-30.
“It was pretty tiring, but it was fun,” Hunter said. “That was the first time we ever got in the 30s.”
“Unfortunately for Stella she has kind of been in the shadows of some other players, but tonight she made people notice,” Oswego coach Julie Zeck said. “The girl has a lot of power, she’s smart, can see the other side of the court and reads defenses well.”
And she plays with incredible emotion, which she felt was heightened by the stakes of Tuesday’s match.
“I get hyped, it gets me excited and once everybody gets excited we can do better than what we’ve been doing,” Hunter said. “We were all cheering together every time we get a point, and we normally don’t do that.”
Oswego had plenty to cheer about early, jumping out to an 11-2 lead in the first set.
And then Zeck’s girls hung on, after Batavia took its first leads at 23-22 and again 24-23 for set point.
“They dug deep and found something in them that I haven’t seen in a long time, which was nice,” Zeck said. “They stayed together as a team. It was very exciting to see.”
Batavia (17-19), with Kyra Taylor and Brianna Picchietti each contributing seven kills and Ellie Schick nine assists and 15 digs, dug deep after a tough start Tuesday.
Taylor’s push kill capped off an 8-2 run in the first set that brought Batavia all the way back to a 17-17 tie. Picchietti’s hit off an Oswego block, followed by a Panthers’ attack error got the Bulldogs to set point, a huge turnaround from the early nine-point deficit.
“That’s something we’ve been doing all year is fighting,” Batavia coach McKenna Kelsay said. “We fought them all the way to the end. We had a little bit of jitters, and credit to Oswego, they were swinging in places we weren’t.”
It was 31-31 in the first set after Batavia’s Claire Ellward capped off a long rally with a block, but Oswego freshman Sidney Hamaker followed with a smash off a quick set that set the stage for set point.
“That energized our team,” Zeck said. “When our girls see that one big kill, especially by a freshman, it’s huge.”
It led right into the second set, Oswego jumping out to another early 6-1 that included back-to-back Hamaker aces, the second clipping the net and falling over.
Short-handed Batavia was down a couple players including setter/right side Amanda Otten, out with a concussion.
“Dealing with adversity, switching things around, I’m just proud of these girls for doing what they could,” Kelsay said. “We had to figure things out, we had some kids step up which is what you have to do. You play as a team. It’s hard to lose, but we went out swinging.”
Destiny Grey added seven kills for Oswego, the seventh a clever shot down the line that she punctuated with two fingers in the air and a pump fist. Next rally, Grey and Kennedy Hugunin rose up for match point.
Oswego advances to face top-seeded Metea Valley, a 25-17, 24-14 winner over Waubonsie Valley.
“We had players that make an impact on a normal basis that made a huge impact tonight,” Zeck said. “They stepped up and filled voids when we needed them.”