It's going to take more than a broken hand to stop the St. Charles East girls volleyball team's continued climb from an unusually slow start into a typically outstanding season.
Junior Chloe Rojas is the one playing through the injury while the entire team is getting better week by week, now just one win away from the Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship.
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The Saints made quick work of Batavia on Tuesday night in a 25-18, 25-11 victory. Combined with Geneva's win over Larkin, the Saints' victory sets up a winner-take-all battle for the conference title when St. Charles East (19-8, 5-0) plays the Vikings next week.
Rojas had 5 digs against Batavia (14-13, 1-4) joining Nichole Woods (9 digs), Annie Hughes (8 digs), Erienne Barry (7 digs) and Katie Kull (4 digs) as part of a stellar defensive effort.
Rojas was the only one of those Saints to get her digs with a cast on one hand, an injury she suffered against Downers Grove South a couple weeks ago that hasn't kept her off the court.
"That's Chloe, she is a fighter and she is a competitor," Saints coach Jennie Kull said. "It wouldn't be OK if the doctor didn't clear her. She's taped up so it doesn't effect her."
The Saints are without Caitlyn Ballard who suffered a stress fracture in her foot and hasn't played since their win over St. Charles North.
Against Batavia, Woods shouldered much of the offensive load with 12 kills -- double the next highest player on either team -- while earning rave reviews from Bulldogs coach Lori Trippi-Payne.
"Nichole Woods was hitting over our block tonight," Trippi-Payne said. "You have to give her credit, Nichole Woods played really, really well tonight. I thought she was the difference-maker for them."
After going to three sets in four of their five matches last weekend at the Mizuno Cup, the Saints weren't similarly challenged Tuesday. The Saints won the Silver title, and Woods credited the tough teams they saw there and throughout the season for putting them in the tie for the UEC River lead.
"I think that is part of the reason our record doesn't show how good we are because we really do play hard teams and it prepares us for this conference," Woods said. "We were coming in to play. We were ready for a hard game. We kept playing hard and consistently good even though we were beating them."
Batavia's best stretch came early in Game 1. After falling behind 9-4, the Bulldogs got within 12-11 when Audrey Faulhaber set Kristin Koncelik on a slide play.
Barry answered by finding Woods for a kill, the start of a 6-2 Saints run that gave them breathing room. They led by at least five points the rest of the way, capping the game when Barry set Mikalea Mosquera in the middle.
The second game was never in doubt, the Saints jumping to a 7-2 lead and Batavia seemingly getting frustrated as the match went on.
Other than Jessica Hartmann's 8 digs and some solid hitting from Heather Meyer (6 kills), Koncelik (5 kills) and Anysa Ocon (3 kills), Trippi-Payne struggled to find many positives.
"You get one thing fixed and then something else doesn't work," Trippi-Payne said. "I thought we attacked really well tonight when we had the opportunity to attack. I thought our kids did a really good job hitting the ball. It's just frustrating because we couldn't get the ball to them.
"We didn't serve our zones and get them out of system. Our passing overall needed to be crisper and defensively we were letting things drop. I think it's hard for the back row players when the block isn't closed."
Mosquera added 5 kills for the Saints while Emma Johnson and Carly Jimenez both had 3. Ashley Bullock had 2 blocks, Nicole Luczynski 2 aces and Barry 23 assists and 3 aces.
The Saints improved to 19-3 since starting 0-5 as they head into the Glenbard West tournament this weekend.
"We knew we were a new team and we knew it would take some time," Woods said. "We stayed in the mindset of just keep getting better and take it one day at a time and obviously it worked out for us."
"They've worked really hard," Jennie Kull said. "We made some changes and our young kids have stepped up and they have started to get in a groove. It has really been a team effort. Every single person has played a role. That is what is so cool about this team. They work well together."