Defeating Cary-Grove in three games Tuesday was as much a mental victory for the Jacobs girls volleyball team as a physical one.
Not since October of 2008, when the Golden Eagles upset Cary-Grove in a regional final, had Jacobs tasted success against the Trojans, who swept the next seven meetings over three seasons en route to three straight appearances in the state championship match, highlighted by the 2009 Class 4A state title.
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The mental hurdle of beating the Trojans reared its head again on Sept. 1, when graduation-depleted Cary-Grove nevertheless defeated the Golden Eagles in their own invite in a match that went the distance, running the streak to eight.
"It's a big mental thing," Jacobs coach Lisa Dwyer said. "When we played them at our tournament we were just a wreck mentally. We did a lot of over thinking. It's been a long time since we've beaten Cary-Grove, so you have to get over that mindset of, 'Ugh, Cary-Grove always beats us.'
"With girls it's hard to move over that hump, but they did it and they did awesome."
Jacobs (12-3, 2-0) snapped the streak by defeating the Trojans 25-21, 21-25, 25-16 in Cary to remain unbeaten in the Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference. Cary-Grove slipped to 7-7 overall, 1-1 in the Valley after a 5-1 start.
The Golden Eagles were led by senior hitters Alyssa Ehrhardt and Maris Smith. The Toledo-bound Ehrhardt registered match highs of 16 kills and 12 digs, while Smith added 8 kills.
Jacobs also received key contributions from players like 6-foot-1 sophomore Jenna Bilgrien. She notched 5 kills, including 2 in the early moments of the decisive third game to help the Eagles jump to critical leads of 3-1 and 8-6.
"We came out a little slow at the beginning of Game 2," Smith said, "We said that we had to come out firing more and get the lead right from the start (in Game 3) because we knew if we let them get the lead, they'd be in control."
The gutty Trojans were still within 20-16 until Ehrhardt caught the sideline with a tip. That was the first of 5 straight Jacobs points to close out the match.
The Eagles cleared the mental hurdle once and for all behind the serve of sophomore libero Kassie Kasper, who aced the Trojans for point No. 23. Two Cary-Grove errors concluded the match and elicited screams of joy from the elated Jacobs players.
"We just had to make sure we kept our cool but stayed intense," said Kasper, who finished with 6 digs. "At the end we just wanted to do it so bad. It felt awesome. This was one of our goals this year, and it's great to do it in conference especially."
Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis continued to juggle her lineup in search of the right combination. The Trojans have taken the floor with a different starting lineup in every match thus far.
"This team, when we're in rally, I'm really at ease and comfortable because they know how to play," Langanis said. "They scramble and they go after every ball. It's the serve and serve receive, the basic part of the game. We've spent a lot of time on it because it's such a mental part of the game.
"Right now we've got so many new kids that there's going to have to be a point where they step up and start believing in themselves a little more."
Senior setter Jess Bartczyszyn led the Trojans with 22 assists. Senior Alex Larsen used her left hand to deliver a team-best 9 kills and sophomore outside hitter Abby Schebel finished with 7 kills.
"We have a strong core, but we're looking for people to rise to the top," Bartczyszyn said. "We have glimpses from people, but we need to find dominant hitters and a consistent level to play at. We knew at the beginning of the season we were going to have ups and downs, but we try to learn from our mistakes. That's what we'll keep doing moving forward."