No matter how tough the road beforehand, Downers Grove North sure seems to find a second home at Waubonsie Valley.
Playing in their third Warrior Blast volleyball tournament final in four years, the Trojans matched their 2009 championship by beating Batavia 25-21, 25-10 Saturday in Aurora.
In two days Downers Grove North (7-10), at one point this season 0-5, surpassed its win total leading up to the weekend.
"Everybody's improved to a level where we can play together," said Trojans junior Katherine Mahlke. "We found the right lineup that shows all our strengths. Everybody is working hard and wants to get better."
Trojans coach Mark Wasik, who plays three freshmen and two sophomores, switched to his third lineup of the season on Saturday. Mahlke moved back from outside hitter to her natural right-side position.
The Trojans first beat defending tournament champion Rosary 28-26, 25-23, then St. Ignatius 25-23, 25-23 with Mahlke putting down the kill at match point. Tied 20-20 in the first set against Batavia, Downers Grove North ended it with a 5-1 run.
Mahlke had 3 of her 8 kills during that stretch, including set point, then slammed home 3 to start the second set as the Trojans jumped out to a 6-0 lead that was never threatened.
"They're young, they're playing loose, and they're starting to get into a zone," Wasik said.
Freshman Hannah Rogoz added 5 kills and sophomore Grace Larson, sliding in to the second outside with Mahlke moving to right-side, also had 5 kills.
"We're relying on younger players and Grace Larson played awesome all day today," Wasik said. "It's just been an evolution with these younger kids. I think we may have found our best lineup."
Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne admitted to being "in a fog" following the Downers Grove North match. It was easy to see why. Her Bulldogs had quite an eventful weekend.
On the heels of a close loss to No. 1 St. Francis Thursday, Batavia reached the championship match of the Warrior Blast for the first time in its 12th year at Waubonsie.
Along the way, though, the Bulldogs lost starting right-side Anysa Ocon to a concussion Friday night against Metea Valley, then saw standout middle Kristen Koncelik hurt her hand in the second set of Saturday's semifinal against Waubonsie.
Koncelik didn't return, but down two starters Bulldogs roared back from down 10-1 in the third set to stun Waubonsie 25-22, 23-25, 25-17. Batavia earlier beat Neuqua Valley 25-19, 25-20.
Shea Stanley had 13 kills, Koncelik 11 and Heather Meyer 9 against Waubonsie. Meyer also had a personal-high 17 digs and Audrey Faulhaber a personal-best 30 assists. The Bulldogs simply ran out of gas against Downers Grove North.
"We hung in there," Trippi-Payne said. "It's been a crazy ride today. We just gotta get some rest."
Waubonsie also lost its best player, Michigan State-bound junior Rachel Minarick, to an injury in the third set of the Batavia match. Minarick sprained her ring finger, played through it but then went to same hospital as Koncelik earlier did. The Warriors (13-10) went on to drop the third-place match to St. Ignatius 25-17, 25-21. Fortunately, though, Minarick shouldn't miss more than a week or two of action.
"Rachel's such a huge player for us in so many ways, so obviously it's a big loss," Warriors coach Kristen Stuart said. "You do expect to win a match like the Batavia one when you're up the way we were, but that's exactly why you can't expect it. Batavia is a scrappy team. They rose to the occasion and we didn't close it out."
Top seed Rosary (14-8), which lost leads against Downers Grove North in a tough quarterfinal loss, bounced back to beat Metea Valley 25-18, 25-22 and Neuqua Valley 25-21, 25-22 to take fifth place. Briana Flagg had 8 kills, Kati Baki 6 aces and Josephine Gallagher 22 assists in the Neuqua match.
"We were ahead against (Downers Grove North), and just got comfortable," Rosary coach Rachel Hartmann said. "So yeah, it was nice to win the last two and get some other people on the court. Our offense definitely picked up."