In an early season showdown between a pair of Top 10 teams, it paid to have match experience -- and Lauren Carlini -- on your side.
No. 4 West Aurora continued its fast start to the 2012 season, coming from behind to win Game 1 and then never trailing in the second game of its 25-22, 25-21 victory over No. 8 Naperville Central Thursday night in Aurora.
The Wisconsin-bound Carlini led West Aurora (12-1, 2-0) with 9 kills and 10 assists. On the final assist she flashed both her athletic ability and touch by lofting a ball nearly from her own Blackhawks bench all the way across court perfectly placed to Peyton McKenzie who slammed her team-high 10th kill to end the match.
"All this weight lifting I've been doing in the off-season really helped I guess," laughed Carlini. "It's all about practice and my adrenaline was really pumping so that helped.
"With the exception of the end of the second game we worked together so well, we were so confident. We have a great team chemistry."
Coming off its first-ever DuPage Valley Conference title last year -- shared with Naperville North -- the Blackhawks knew how much a win Thursday meant in their bid to repeat.
"We're really excited, we've been preparing for this game a lot," McKenzie said. "We went all out. We just started pushing through to the end of the game."
"It's so important especially this early in the season," Carlini said. "Naperville Central is going to be one of our main competitors. To have a win like that really boosts our confidence."
With five returning starters, Naperville Central has experience too. But the Redhawks (2-1, 1-1) only had played two matches this season.
Despite that, the Redhawks took control late in Game 1 with a 6-0 spurt to go up 20-17. Sammy Condon came alive in the middle with a block and then slide kill on back-to-back points.
West Aurora responded with 6 straight points. Carlini set Mallory Jones for a kill that tied the score at 20, then winners from Kaitlyn Richter and another from Jones made it 22-20.
The Blackhawks closed out the opener on a vicious kill by Carlini that richoted off Alysia Baznik.
"I think finishing that first game of course it has momentum (into Game 2)," West Aurora coach Kari Nicholson said. "We knew Naperville Central was a really good team, we were ready for them to be a very good team which they were. I think we were a little excited and probably a little bit tight the first game. and I think we tightened up a little at the end of the second game."
After 10 ties and 7 lead changes in Game 1, the Blackhawks scored the first five points and never looked back in the second. Demi Heiss served an early ace, Carlini blistered another ball and Naperville Central coach Brie Isaacson called timeouts down 4-0 and 13-6 trying to settle her team.
"This was such a difference in speed from the two matches we played, nothing against the teams we played," Isaacson said. "It took us awhile to adjust. I thought we played really well up until point 20 in Game 1. We made four or five silly plays which gave them momentum and we did the same five silly plays in Game 2 that gave them the lead and we struggled to get it back."
The Redhawks hurt themselves in Game 2 with five service errors. West Aurora built its lead to 21-12 and still led 24-17 before the Redhawks staged a final rally to fend off four match points until Carlini's set to McKenzie sealed the outcome.
Baznik led the Redhawks with 11 kills and 4 digs. Kendall Ward had 6 kills, Condon 3 kills and 2 blocks and Abbi Williamson 23 assists. Elli Martin had 11 assists for West Aurora.
"We did some really good things and obviously that's a really good team," Iscaason said. "Now we know what we have to work on."