Defending boys volleyball sectional champion Neuqua Valley (34-3) and top-seed Naperville Central (31-7) will play each other for the second time this season when they meet in the championship match of the Naperville North Sectional on Tuesday night.
Both teams looked good on Friday night. The Redhawks had the easier go of it in the semifinals, beating Oswego in two games, but that was because Central played almost flawless ball in what coach Bryan Johnwick called his team's beat performance of the season.
"Our season's been a roller coaster," Johnwick said. "It's the kind of roller coaster that it keeps going up and up and up."
The first time they played, at the Benet Invitational, the Redwings won in three games in a match that Neuqua could have closed out with one more point.
So who is the better team now? How bout we ask North senior Mike Henry, who saw Central three times this season and Neuqua twice, including Friday's three-game loss.
"It's up for grabs pretty much, I think," Henry said. "They both have different strengths. Neuqua has a good middle, a good outside. And Central has some pretty solid middles, some experienced middles, I don't know. Central's got a good defense."
The matchup in the middle of Central's Matt Yanz and Mike Brdicka vs. Neuqua's Brian Clark and Derek Mendoza will be fun to watch. It's more likely that things are decided on the outside because the middle looks to be a wash.
Will Jake Blackman, Collin Adler and Rob Bauer get it done for Neuqua or will Dan Dierking, Joe Thomas and Matt Schmitz be the difference for Central?
I also see setters Victor Lei and Sean Harmon of Central and Neuqua, respectively, as a fairly even comparison at this point.
The Wildcats will be going for their second consecutive trip to the state finals, something that will help Neuqua shed that outsider status that coach Erich Mendoza has used to motivate his team.
"It's just that little matter of respect," Mendoza said. "It doesn't matter who it is that we're playing. We have to go out there and prove not just to ourselves but to everybody else that we are for real, that we are one of the top teams and we deserve to be there."
Neuqua libero Brad Stout presented an interesting balance of temperance and thirst when asked to sum up his team's outlook on the rest of the tournament.
"We're just going to go as far as we can go," Stout said. "We're not saying we're going to win a state championship. We're not saying we just want to win the next game."