Like a freight train that slowly builds momentum while forging ahead, St. Charles East's girls volleyball team is gradually gaining some steam of its own these days.
Behind the all-around efforts of senior setter Erienne Barry, right side Caitlyn Ballard (9 kills, 4 digs, ace), outside hitter Nicole Woods, and middle hitter Mikaela Mosquera, the Saints (10-7, 2-0) swept cross-town rival St. Charles North (9-3, 1-1) by scores of 25-21, 25-12 before a frenzied crowd at St. Charles East Tuesday night.
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After a disappointing 0-5 start, the Saints have now won 10 of their last 12 matches.
"We've been making some strides," said Saints coach Jennie Kull. "From the start of the season until now, I couldn't be happier. I think they have built some confidence. We've made some adjustments, too."
Last weekend's impressive second-place showing at the Prairie Ridge Invitational also may have served as a steppingstone for the Saints.
"We did some wonderful things on Saturday," said Barry, who collected a match-high 21 assists, 3 digs, 2 blocks, 1 kill and an ace against the North Stars. "Getting second place at Prairie Ridge and coming into this was such a confidence builder."
In the opening game, the lead switched hands five times before Woods (8 kills, 3 digs) delivered a kill to snap a 15-15 deadlock.
After Barry's short-serve ace put St. Charles East on top 24-20, Woods pounded another deep kill to seal the Game 1 victory.
Powered by freshman Claire Anderson (team-high 7 kills), the North Stars grabbed an early 3-2 lead before the Saints seized control.
Senior Nicole Luczynski enjoyed a 5-point service run that included an ace and 4 St. Charles North hitting miscues, as the Saints regained an 8-3 advantage.
When the North Stars closed to within 2 at 12-10, the Saints countered with 9 unanswered points, 8 of them coming during Ballard's service run that was highlighted by an Emma Johnson kill, Barry's dump kill, and a combination block from Barry and Mosquera.
On match point, Woods pounded down a kill off a perfect set from Barry to set off a celebration scene at midcourt, as the Saints captured their eighth consecutive victory over St. Charles North dating back to September of 2007.
"I don't know the reason," Kull answered when asked about the Saints' recent dominance in the cross-town series. "They almost had us last year (at sectionals).
"I do know that (St. Charles) North is a real good team," she added. "But the bottom line for me is that each game is a new game. It doesn't matter because the next game is the most important."
North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins watched from the stands (maternity leave) as Taylor Krage (5 kills, 7 digs), Emily Belz (10 assists), Alex Busch (7 digs), Alex Seavey (5 digs), and Sydney Wohlert (3 digs) added contributions.
"East took it to us, no question," said St. Charles North interim coach Doug Foster. "They beat us. That was clear."
Neither coach saw the Game 2 dismantling coming.
"I was surprised," said Kull.
"I would say that East's intensity was way up there and we didn't match it," said Foster. "But I also think it's more about execution than matching energy levels. They executed -- we didn't."