The Elgin girls volleyball team was braced for the powerful spikes of 6-foot-1 Larkin junior Olivia Kofie and 5-11 junior Brianna Stewart, but the Royals threw multiple change-ups at their rivals to end their season in Schaumburg Monday night.
"We were ready for their hitting, but we weren't' ready for their tips," Maroons coach Scott Stewart said after No. 11 Larkin defeated No. 22 Elgin 25-18, 25-21 in opening-round play of the Class 4A Schaumburg regional. "Their tipping killed us."
The victory is the sixth straight for Larkin (19-16) over Elgin (2-31-2) and advances the Royals to today's regional semifinal against No. 5 Schaumburg. Larkin defeated Schaumburg at the Saxons' tournament earlier this season.
"We're confident we can win because we're working hard and we beat them in a tournament," said Kofie, who finished with 5 kills and 2 bocks. "But we're going to try not to overestimate everything. We're just going to try to win and really push. We really want to make it to sectionals because we're hosting it this year, so we're really pushing it now."
Larkin's push began almost immediately against the Maroons. Unlike the first meeting between the teams on Sept. 18, when Elgin won the first game of a match that went the distance, Larkin used a 5-1 run to gain some separation and a 12-7 lead. Stewart and Kofie sparked the Royals when each stuffed Elgin overpasses for emphatic points. Stewart was responsible for 2 more points with a booming hit from the right side and a soft shot that found floorspace in the middle of the Elgin defense.
Stewart targeted the heart of Elgin's defense often, particularly when she played back row.
"They're supposed to move back on defense when back row hits, so no one's covering the middle area," said Stewart, who finished with a match-high 13 kills, 2 blocks and 2 digs. "They always say hit it to the middle, so I did."
Elgin senior outside hitter Jackie Shioli kept the Maroons in contention in Game 1 with 4 of her team-high 7 kills, but her hitting error on game point allowed Larkin to take a 1-0 lead.
"Everybody was just nervous, but we put up a fight," said Shioli, a two-year Elgin starter along with setter/right side Hope Demel (2 aces, 8 assists) and libero Taylor Powers (2 aces). "There were a couple of down spots, but we gave it our all and that's all that matters."
Elgin jumped to a 5-1 lead in the second game on the strength of 2 kills and a block from sophomore middle blocker Abby Pierre-Louis. However, Larkin responded with an 11-1 run, ignited by a powerful spike from Stewart and a kill off a blocker by junior Alexis Price.
"We started a little slow, but we know we have it in us," said Larkin senior Anna Gaston, who served five straight points. "We just have to continue to work hard to move forward in regionals."
Elgin didn't go quietly. Trailing 24-16, they scored 5 consecutive points to stave off elimination, powered by 2 aces and a kill from Powers. However, a hitting error ended the match and the season for the Maroons, who shed some tears in the aftermath.
"We win 2 games out of 35 and they're upset about the season being over?" Stewart said. "That's just the kind of awesome kids that I've got. That just goes to show you what kind of team they are."
Price finished with 4 kills and Alyssa McGhee contributed 12 assists and 4 digs for Larkin.