The girls from Larkin and Elgin battled to the final point in a tense, 3-game volleyball match at Chesbrough Field House Tuesday, but the moment of truth in visiting Larkin's come-from-behind 23-25, 25-11, 26-24 victory may have come during a timeout early in the third game, according to coach Marcin Dybka.
Game 3 opened with seven ties and four lead changes before the Maroons reeled off 4 straight points to grab the momentum and an 11-7 lead. After consecutive Larkin overpasses resulted in easy Elgin putaways, Dybka called timeout and removed the kid gloves.
"We were down by a few points and I started yelling at the team pretty much," Larkin's second-year coach said in his strong Polish accent. "I knew they would either start crying or start trying to win the game. First, I think they were about to cry. Then, no. They said, 'We're not going to lose this match. We're not giving up.' "
That never-say-die-attitude was best demonstrated moments later when Larkin trailed 24-23 at match point. Elgin junior setter Hope Demel sent a perfect set to junior middle blocker Monica Stockman, but Larkin sophomore middle blocker Oliva Kofie read Stockman perfectly and countered with a stuff block for a point that denied Elgin the victory.
The hips don't lie, Kofie later explained.
"My coach always tells me to just watch her hips," she said of the opposing hitter. "We had a day in practice where we just stood there and watched the hips and blocked. I looked, saw where she was going and just took away her option."
"That was awesome," said Kofie's teammate Brianna Stewart, who finished with 11 kills, 11 digs, 3 aces and 2 blocks. "I thought I was about to fall out."
The Elgin players thought they had retaken the lead on the next point when senior outside hitter Elyssa Helker (team-high 8 kills) smashed a spike down the left sideline. However, the ball was ruled out of bounds, much to the Maroons' dismay, which gave Larkin a 25-24 lead.
The Royals then clinched the match when Anna Gaston bumped a ball over the net. The return tip attempt by the Maroons rolled along the top of the net for several feet before it fell out of bounds to end the contest.
The game between the cross-town rivals didn't end the way he would have liked, but it did provide some teachable moments, according to Elgin's new head coach.
"Our girls have never been in a game like this," Scott Stewart said. "I told the girls this is good practice for regionals: a packed house, pressure serves. Like I've said since the beginning of the season, it's serving. We started off really good tonight. Then at the end I think the nerves just got to them."
Elgin made 6 service errors in Game 3.
Piper Johnson notched 7 kills, Kofie had 5 kills and 2 blocks, Sarah Woods had 2 blocks and setter Lexi Smithberg finished with 22 assists and 11 digs for Larkin (1-2).
Elgin (1-3) was led by 5 aces from junior Taylor Powers. Helker led the Maroons with 8 kills, senior Bree Hamilton had 7 kills and 2 blocks, Demel finished with 24 assists, 3 kills and 2 aces, Stockman registered 4 kills, Jackie Shioli had 3 kills and a block and senior libero Rachel Roth contributed 7 digs and 2 kills.
The Elgin rivals will meet again on Sept. 13 at Larkin.
"At least we get a chance to pay them back," Helker said. "They'll see us again and we'll be ready"