NORMAL, Ill. -- It was a stroke of luck.
Champaign St. Thomas More and Quincy Notre Dame were tied at 21 in the third set of Saturday afternoon's championship match in the Class 2A state volleyball tournament, and Notre Dame was serving to take the lead.
The Raiders appeared to be getting a free ball on the third hit from the Sabers. Mica Allison was merely punching the ball over the net with her left hand.
The ball hit the tape, rolled along the net and dropped on the Raiders' side.
"When it went over, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, Holy Cow and thank you, God,'" St. Thomas More coach Stan Bergman said.
"It was kind of like a punch in the gut," Raiders libero Hannah Peters said.
QND never did recover from that point. The Sabers scored the next three points and won 18-25, 25-19, 25-21 at Redbird Arena.
The title is the first in school history for St. Thomas More (39-3). It's the fifth second-place trophy for the Raiders, who also have won four state titles.
Had Allison's ball dropped on the other side of the net, the Raiders (33-9) would have taken their first lead since it was 4-2, and they would have been three points from winning a championship.
"I thought it wasn't going over at all, and then it kind of dinked over," QND hitter Sydney Hummert said.
"I was just trying to get the ball over," Allison said. "I was very scared. It just sat on the net, and I was like, ‘Please, just go over.' When it did, I was like, ‘We've got this now.'"
St. Thomas More scored the 23rd point when Hummert ran into Maddie Peters, the setter. Allison blocked Monica Brown's kill for the 24th point, and Brianna Hopper's kill down the line ended the match.
"There's no defense for (a shot like Allison's)," QND coach Rich Meyer said. "It's just part of the game. The ball doesn't always go where you think it should."
QND's blocking surprised the taller Sabers in the first set. The Raiders scored 17 of the first 25 points and never let the score get closer than six points.
"I attribute that to our 14 hitting errors," Bergman said. "We gave away half a set. I was just shaking my head thinking, ‘What on earth do we need to do?'"
"Our kids were really poised. They had a lot of fun the first game," Meyer said. "We were light on our feet and did a great job blocking early. (St. Thomas More was) really dumbfounded. I think we shocked them."
Allison took over in the second set. The talented outside hitter and setter, who has committed to Auburn, had six kills in the set, and she had a seven-point serving run that put the Sabers ahead 14-8. The Raiders never got closer than three points.
"She's not an All-American for nothing," Bergman said of Allison. "She didn't make the 18-U national team for nothing. ... We have a lot of go-to players, but when we need to bring home something, we're going to her."
The score was tied at 9-9 in the third set when St. Thomas More got kills from Allie Trame, who has committed to Alabama, and Brianna Hopper and an ace from Kayla Brandon to go ahead 12-9.
The lead grew to 18-14, but QND turned the tide on a block by Taylor Keck. That point led to two more for the Raiders to make the score 18-17.
QND eventually tied the score at 20. Maddie Peters kept a ball alive with a sprawling dig, and Sydney Hummert put down the kill. The teams then traded points before Allison's go-ahead kill.
Hummert had 12 kills for QND. Allison had 12 kills for the Sabers, and Trame had 10. The Sabers had 44 kills compared to 27 for the Raiders.
"They're hard (to defend)," Hannah Peters said. "They're all super talented, and you never know where they're going to go. Most hitters, you can read where they're going to hit, but (St. Thomas More) just changed up so much."
A second-place finish seemed unlikely after a three-set loss to Quincy High School and a lineup overhaul in mid-October.
"Had someone said we would be here now, I'd have said, ‘OK, you want to say that, you can,'" senior middle hitter Molly Penn said with a laugh. "It's been a crazy, unpredictable year, but it's been super fun."