Neuqua Valley is a team still searching for consistency on the volleyball court this season.
Tuesday, then, was a good win to get.
A night after a loss to Downers Grove South, and with a tough weekend looming at the Wheaton Classic, Neuqua Valley beat Metea Valley 26-24, 25-18 in Naperville.
The Wildcats (7-7, 1-0 Upstate Eight Valley), which had lost three of four matches coming in, bumped its record back to .500.
"We really needed this one," said Neuqua's Kaylyn Hugdahl. "We had a tough loss last night. This gives us confidence and momentum going into the tournament."
Things didn't start particularly well for Neuqua. Metea, looking for its first win over its rival, got out to leads of 12-7 and 13-9 in the first set. The Wildcats sided out to get within 13-10, then proceeded to roll off 6 straight points with Hugdahl on serve. Hugdahl served up 4 aces during the crucial stretch and also put down one of her 5 kills to cap off a long rally.
"I had great support from my teammates. They gave me a lot of energy," Hugdahl said. "I just kept my mind in it and kept going."
Serve receive, an issue for Metea this season, bit the Mustangs again. Metea was aced 6 times in the first set, 8 for the match.
"Not good. We got to get the ball to the setter," said Metea coach Janine Wange. "We've worked on serve-receive a lot, but we still have to do better."
Neuqua coach Kelly Simon had called a timeout down 12-7, with a simple message for her girls.
"In the huddle I said, 'It's a race to 15, don't even look beyond that,'" Simon said. "I said, 'Let's get to 15 first, and we'll worry about getting to 25 later.' They locked in and that's where Kaylyn went on her big run."
A Hugdahl kill pushed Neuqua ahead 23-20, but a pair of kills by Metea middle Kaylyn Torain and two Neuqua errors knotted the score at 24-24. Metea, though, served one into the net and after a long rally hit one long to give Neuqua set point.
The teams traded six straight errors at the outset of the second set, before Hugdahl ended another long rally with a kill off the block. A Torain kill off a Neuqua overpass kept Metea within 12-11, but Neuqua answered with a decisive 8-1 run ignited by a Taylor McKeown kill.
Simon gave high praise to her girls for not letting the season's ups and downs affect their attitude.
"We've been real inconsistent -- we've played really really well for parts of matches and then made far too many errors parts of matches," Simon said. "But this team by far is the most united team I've had in all my years of coaching. Nobody takes any shortcuts. Everyone is held accountable. They're fighting hard to take the chemistry they have off the court, on the court."
Brooke Antenen had 7 kills, 9 assists, 5 digs and 2 blocks and McKeown 4 kills and 6 digs for Neuqua. Jenna Marquez had 8 digs.
Torain had 5 kills and 2 blocks, Lexie Lobdell 7 kills and 10 digs and Ellie Petersen 9 assists for Metea (7-3, 1-1). The Mustangs came in with a better record, but Wange was the first to admit her team hasn't yet been tested as much as Neuqua in tough matches.
"Neuqua had had more experience playing top teams," said Wange, a former Neuqua assistant. "I think our lack of that kind of experience hurt us."