It's November and the Cary-Grove girls volleyball team is peaking right on cue.
The Trojans bulled their way into a third straight Class 4A sectional championship match by dismantling DeKalb in every phase throughout a 25-11, 25-8 semifinal victory at Prairie Ridge Tuesday.
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The tone of the post-match comments speaks to Cary-Grove's confidence level entering the familiar landscape of the Sweet 16.
"We were in the zone," said senior outside hitter Melanie Jereb, who slammed 6 kills to go with 3 aces.
"I feel like we're in a good place," said junior setter Jess Bartczyszyn, who recorded 19 assists and 2 aces.
The victory advances Cary-Grove (33-4) to the sectional final against Huntley (31-7). The rivals from the Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference split two matches during the regular season.
The Trojans seemingly could do no wrong against the Barbs, a team that won their conference and a regional for the second straight year. The most impressive moment may have come in Game 1. Cary-Grove led 10-7 but caught fire with 7 straight points behind the devastating jump serve of Jereb. The Creighton recruit opened the run with a big swing for a kill, and she capped it with 3 consecutive aces, forcing the Barbs to call timeout to regroup.
"When one of our servers gets going the runs can be detrimental for sure," Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis said. "And Melanie's serve keeps getting stronger and stronger."
The Cary-Grove defense was outstanding, led by libero Nicole Schuh (8 digs). On two occasions late in Game 2, a DeKalb spike was passed with precision by Schuh to Bartczyszyn, who, in turn, set outside hitter Ashley Rosch for 2 of her match-best 13 kills.
"Nicole and (defensive specialist) Korey (Kronforst) -- the whole back row is doing amazing things, and I don't even know how they're getting me the ball," Bartczyszyn said. "I'm so proud of them and I couldn't ask for a better defensive line. I'm feeling better than ever."
Game 2 was never contested after Cary-Grove blitzed Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference champion DeKalb (29-8) with a 7-0 run to start behind the serving of Bartczyszyn. Consecutive aces by Sheila Wilhelmi gave the Trojans a 15-2 lead.
"The level of play in their conference is so different from ours," said DeKalb captain Baleigh Euhus. "I think we were just shellshocked. We weren't ready for anything they were hitting at us. We practiced real hard, but the lack of playing anyone like that all year long really hurt us."
Overall, the Trojans were cool, calm and collected throughout.
"I really liked our mentality," Langanis said. "We wanted to come in with an intense amount of focus and determination and play our game at the level we need to play at to continue in the state tournament.
When you get any kind of matchup you're worried your team will let down or show jitters. I thought we looked mentally solid and ready to play. That's a good thing to see from this group."
Don't mistake the Trojans for overconfident.
"We feel good, but we know we have more to work on in practice," Jereb said.