Before the season started Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne pegged St. Charles North as the team to beat in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division girls volleyball race.
Trippi-Payne got a first-hand look at what could end up being a dead-on prediction Tuesday night. Her Bulldogs gave undefeated St. Charles North all it wanted on Batavia's Pack the Place night, but the North Stars made the big shots when they had to in a 25-23, 25-21 victory.
St. Charles North (10-0, 1-0) found itself in a dogfight in both games. Neither team led by more than 2 points throughout a back-and-forth Game 1 with 18 ties and 9 lead changes.
The North Stars can go a long way toward claiming that River title with key conference matches coming up against St. Charles East and Geneva. Trippi-Payne was impressed with how they persevered through some tough serving, blocking and back-row defense from Batavia.
"We blocked really well and we played some good defense," Trippi-Payne said. "We kept a lot of balls off the floor. We were right there. We needed to play flawlessly to beat them."
Game 2 was just as tight. When Alex Seavey dropped a serve in for the North Stars' first ace of the night and a 24-21 lead, it was the first time either team led by three points in either game.
"It's real fun to play in an atmosphere like this," North Stars senior Taylor Krage said. "We were on our heels a little in the beginning because we haven't played in an atmosphere like this this season. We have a lot of girls who stay calm and don't really freak out on the court. We just keep playing volleyball."
Batavia (5-5, 0-1) made life more difficult for the North Stars' big hitters than most teams have. Northern Illinois commit Krage still managed to lead all players with 9 kills, using a variety of shots to put the ball away.
"It was hard to find holes," North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins said. "They were adjusting to everything we did. Props to them for doing that because they were making it really hard for us tonight.
"Batavia is always good defensively so we always prepare for them to throw stuff back at us. It's always crazy and intense at Batavia and with it being pack the house night we knew their fans were going to be intense. They were serving us really aggressively and taking us out of system. They just have a lot of solid players."
But the North Stars have Krage who Trippi-Payne said spoiled a lot of the times Batavia served the North Stars out of system by coming up with a backcourt winner. Krage ended one of the best points of Game 1 with a thunderous kill moments after Sam Bradle had hustled into the bleachers to keep alive what looked like a sure Krage kill earlier in the rally.
The North Stars led 15-14 at that point, but a few plays later Batavia was back on top 19-18 when Audrey Faulhaber set Shea Stanley. The Bulldogs still held a 23-22 lead before the North Stars scored the final three points, game point coming when Taryn DalDegan set Krage. Batavia hurt itself with four service errors in the opener.
The North Stars also scored the final four points of Game 2 to break a 21-21 tie, flashing plenty of moxie when they had to have it at the end of both games.
"It showed they are going to stay clam even with a tough team and they were able to pull out the match so that is awesome," Hawkins said. "But obviously we have a lot to work on. They exposed a lot of our weaknesses."
Krage (9 kills, 9 digs), Sophia DuVall (4 kills), Emily Carroll (2 kills), Daley Krage (5 kills, 6 digs), Jaclyn Taylor (4 kills), Sydney Wohlert (15 assists), DalDegan (8 assists), Seavey (6 digs) and Frankie Neari (4 digs) all contributed to the win.
Batavia was led by Heather Meyer (8 kills, 8 digs), Stanley (6 kills), Faulhaber (22 assists, 9 digs), Maddie Jaudon (8 digs), Shea Thayer (3 blocks) and Maddy Astling (2 blocks).
While the North Stars are off until next Tuesday when they play St. Charles East in the fifth annual Volley for a Cure match, Batavia gets right back on the court Thursday hosting defending Class 4A state champion Benet.
"It's going to be a tough one but we're going to go after them," Trippi-Payne said. "We have some talent on our team too."