Every girls volleyball match in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division is conducted with a sense of urgency.
With only 6 matches determining the division champion, momentum, once lost, rarely returns.
Larkin led St. Charles East for virtually the entire first set Tuesday night, but the Saints rallied late to earn a hard-fought 2-point win.
The Royals led only once the remainder of the match as the Saints throttled Larkin with its service game in the nightcap of their straight-sets 26-24 and 25-13 victory in St. Charles.
"We needed to get better as a team," said St. Charles East senior defensive specialist Emily Vitel, who rifled home an ace for the clinching point in the opening game. "All coming together, I thought we stepped it up."
Western Michigan-bound middle hitter Olivia Kofie began the match with an ace for Larkin, and the Royals scored 4 of the first 5 points.
In a first-set scenario which defined its character, Larkin (6-3, 0-1) continually kept the Saints at bay as the opening game stretched well into double digits.
No matter how St. Charles East (8-1, 1-0) countered the Royals' athletic front line, Larkin was able to keep the most precarious of leads.
But Meagan Smith and Mikaela Mosquera were a pair of juniors who tipped the balance in favor of St. Charles East.
Smith had all 5 of her kills in the first game, and Ally Smith authored a 4-point service run for St. Charles East -- capped by an Ashley Bullock kill -- that gave the Saints a 19-17 lead.
Kofie, however, was not about to be denied.
The Royals' senior, who finished with a match-high 8 kills to augment 5 digs and 2 blocks, scored back-to-back points for Larkin to forge only the third tie of the first set.
"(Kofie) is going to get her kills," St. Charles East coach Jennie Kull said. "We took away some of their other points."
The first game would be tied twice again, only to see St. Charles East surge to match point behind another Bullock kill.
But the Royals staved off both points -- a net violation and hitting error, respectively -- to extend the set.
Smith had the last of her first-set kills to force a sideout, and Vitel did the rest.
The second set belonged to Mosquera and her St. Charles East teammates.
Larkin scored the opening point, but Mosquera had consecutive kills -- part of her team-high barrage of 7 -- that gave the Saints the lead for good.
With Kull inserting fresh bodies -- notably Alex Mazanke, who responded with a quick flurry of 3 kills -- St. Charles East never looked back.
"The first game, mentally we needed to refocus," Mosquera said.
Larkin had no answer for the Saints' service game as the Saints finished with 7 aces.
"I thought that was great," said Mosquera, who had 2 of the Saints' second-set aces.
"Even if it wasn't an ace, we just got the ball over the net," Larkin coach Henry Graack said. "We weren't hitting the ball over the net. You can't give good teams free plays. (St. Charles East is) pretty good at making adjustments."
Carly Jimenez orchestrated the Saints' attack with 20 assists, while Anne Hughes' 13 digs was also a match high.
Alyssa McGhee had 12 assists and 7 digs for Larkin.
Danielle Newquist, however, was the only player for the Royals other than Kofie with at least 3 kills.