If the girls volleyball programs that took part in Saturday's Prairire Ridge Invite lined up the state trophies they've won since 2000 alone, the hardware would stretch from sideline to sideline.
Cary-Grove, St. Charles East, Crystal Lake Central, Prairie Ridge and Barrington have won 14 state trophies combined over the past 13 years, including 3 state titles and seven runner-up finishes.
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After 5 matches of round-robin play over seven hours, St. Charles East stood above a field of state powers. The Saints finished 4-1, as did Crystal Lake Central and Prairie Ridge, but St. Charles East won the invite title based on best winning percentage. The Saints won 9 of 11 sets. Prairie Ridge won 9 of 13 sets to place second and CL Central won 8 of 13 to take third.
"We came into this tournament with high expectations for how we wanted to play, and I think we accomplished that goal," St. Charles East junior libero Anne Hughes said. "We played very well."
The Saints (12-3) lost only to the host Wolves (5-5). Playing their only match of the day in the larger competition gym, St. Charles East had trouble adjusting to the more spacious venue. Prairie Ridge won a tense match, 20-25, 25-13, 17-15.
"The facility changed with the bigger gym and we just couldn't get our rhythm in there," Saints coach Jennie Kull said. "Overall, I was extremely pleased. They played disciplined, they took care of the ball, our hitters were aggressive and our blocking was successful -- all the things we've been trying to get better at and which we struggled with on Tuesday against Metea Valley. We cleaned that up, so that's a real positive. I was really, really proud of them."
Prairie Ridge finished 4-1 to even its overall season record. The Wolves lost only to Crystal Lake Central (11-3), swept Batavia (7-9) and Cary-Grove (8-6) and were taken the distance by Barrington (2-7)
"We reduced some of our streaks of mistakes, but they are still there," Prairie Ridge coach Stefanie Otto said. "And we need to work on the mental aspect of the game, not having so many service errors and hitting into the net, our unforced errors. If we do that, we'll have a lot more wins down the road. I was very pleased. The teams we played have good records and history."
Batavia beat Cary-Grove in one of the most competitive matches of the day. The Trojans rallied from a 12-8 deficit in the third set to win 6 straight points. Sophomore Sarah Graham's spike down the left sideline staked the Trojans to a 14-12 lead and brought them to match point. However, Batavia rallied to take 5 of the next 6 points to win the match, puncuated by Heather Meyer's kill to the middle of the floor.
"We struggled adapting to them with our block and our digging, but they're a really good team so we accepted it," said Meyer, who led the Bulldogs with 38 kills and contributed 43 digs. "It felt good to beat them. We love playing against really good teams."
"We're looking at five other programs here that got to the Final Four in the last 12 years," Batavia coach Lori Trippi Payne said. "For us to come out with a couple of wins today and lose another in 3, that's doing pretty well considering who you are playing."
Cary-Grove's young lineup struggled to maintain consistency through the mental and physical grind of a one-day, 5-match tournament. The Trojans entered with a 7-2 record but finished 1-4 at the invite. Cary-Grove's lone win was a 25-23, 25-23 decison over Barrington (2-7), which lost all 5 of its matches.
"We went in knowing it would be a tough day because all the teams here are so good," Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis said. "It's just I am a little surprised because we expected some of our young kids to play a little better. I expect them to have the experience of juniors and seniors and they don't. It's frustrating to see such great play fluctuate with such awful play. I think that's part of our learning experience, figuring out how to get through some of these bumps. When you're a young team, you're going to make a lot of unforced errors. We just have to clean it up."