The opening night of the girls volleyball season was a harbinger of the what is expected to be a common theme in the Upstate Eight River Division.
"A dogfight," acting St. Charles North coach Doug Foster said after the North Stars held off a surging Batavia squad by identical scores of 25-23 and 25-23 Tuesday evening in St. Charles.
Renee Rhoades' serve fell innocuously to the floor, only inches from the back line, as the North Stars earned the final point after squandering an 11-point second-game lead against Batavia in the schools' league opener.
"(The back-row players) thought (the serve) was going long," Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne said. "You have to play that ball."
St. Charles North (9-2, 1-0) appeared to be in command in the second game after Alex Busch, capitalizing on several Batavia mistakes, had an 8-point service run -- highlighted by a pair of aces -- to give the North Stars the first of four double-digit leads in the nightcap.
Batavia captain Heather Meyer, who led both teams with 8 kills, had three of her winners in a 5-point sequence to launch the Bulldogs' comeback.
Slowly but inexorably, Batavia (9-6, 0-1) clawed its way back into the second game.
Kristin Koncelik had a kill to cap a 12-4 Batavia run that sliced the North Stars' cushion to 21-18.
Batavia senior Anysa Ocon had back-to-back points -- a kill and block, respectively -- to bring Batavia within two.
Taylor Krage maintained the North Stars' 2-point spread at 23-21, only to have Batavia score consecutive points to knot the game for the first time since it was 1-1.
But St. Charles North freshman Claire Anderson brought her team to match point with a kill, and Rhoades' service from well beyond the North Stars' end line perfectly split two defenders for the clinching point.
"It was kind of a little bit of a letdown," Krage said of North allowing Batavia back into the second game. "I felt like both teams played a great match."
Batavia appeared dead in the water after its sluggish second-game start.
"We underestimated them at the start of the match," Ocon said. "They served us really tough the whole match. I think we played great defense (to accelerate the second-game comeback)."
Briahna Havis' serving prowess powered Batavia to an early 5-2 lead in the opening game, but St. Charles North made short order of the Bulldogs' largest lead of the night.
With its athletic front line controlling the tempo at the net and setter Emily Belz providing the necessary floor leadership, St. Charles North had Rhoades' opening ace of the match culminate an 11-3 run that resulted in a 13-8 lead.
"You have to give St. Charles North credit," Trippi-Payne said. "They were blocking everything."
St. Charles North was able to maintain first-game cushion, only to see Batavia use a venomous strike back with the North Stars on the cusp of victory.
Trailing 24-20, Ocon staved off one game point for Batavia; a St. Charles North hitting error and violation brought the Bulldogs within one of the equivalent of volleyball overtime.
But Belz had other ideas; the North Stars' senior leader deftly landed a two-hand short volley from the front row into an empty space in the Bulldogs' defense to seal the first-game win.
"It was a really intense point," Belz said. "I didn't want them to have all the momentum going into the second game. Our team chemistry really kicked in."
"I thought (Belz) played a great match," Trippi-Payne said.
Belz had 16 assists to lead St. Charles North, while Batavia setter Audrey Faulhaber had a match-high 19 assists to augment 6 digs and 2 blocks.
"A bunch of heart on that team," Foster said of Batavia.