With all the noise, emotion and general craziness going on in the St. Charles North gym on the 5th annual Volley for a Cure night Tuesday, the North Stars did an amazing job of tuning it out against a St. Charles East program that has owned this series lately.
The result was a third game with just a single North Star hitting error and no service mistakes. The Saints, meanwhile, missed three serves and committed seven hitting errors in the deciding game, and the steady, calm play by the North Stars proved to be the difference in a thrilling 25-17, 23-25, 25-22 victory that snapped an 8-match losing streak to St. Charles East.
The North Stars didn't lead in the third game until 15-14 when Taryn DalDegan set Emily Carroll for her first kill of the night. They never let go once they got it, improving their perfect record to 11-0 overall and 2-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
"We don't have people on our team that will freak out even when we were behind in the third game," said the North Stars' Northern Illinois-bound senior Taylor Krage who led all players with 18 kills. "We knew if we controlled our side there was a good chance to come out with a win."
That the North Stars did, with Krage putting away the final point on a cross-court kill.
"Senior leadership," North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins said of the difference. "Sydney Wohlert, Alex Seavey and Taylor Krage, they were all on the court, they wanted to win, they have been dreaming of this since they started here. They have been with me a long time and they are some of the best senior leaders I've ever had. They just really dug deep and stayed calm. They did not let the atmosphere rattle them, and they relied on each other."
It also marked the first win in seven tries for the St. Charles East alum Hawkins against her mentor Jennie Kull, and fittingly the North Stars did it with fundamentally sound volleyball.
The North Stars finished with 35 kills and just six hitting errors. The Saints put away more balls with 41 kills but also hit out or into the net 17 times, and they also missed seven serves in the match while the North Stars didn't miss a single serve.
"The big thing is cleaning up our side of the court," Hawkins said. "We have been focusing so much this year on what is going on on our side of the court and not worrying too much about their side of the court."
St. Charles North got off to a great start in front of a large and lively crowd for both sides. The North Stars led by as many as five points early before falling behind briefly at 15-14 on a block by middle Mikaela Mosquera, who was a force all night for the Saints.
The North Stars closed the game on a 13-2 surge. On one rally during the run Wohlert dug what looked like a sure Saints point, getting the ball to Seavey who set Krage for the kill. Strong serving late from Sam Lappin and Seavey and a couple more Krage kills got the North Stars to game point, which Carroll won with a block.
The Saints bounced back in Game 2 behind 5 kills each from Dana Voltolina and Meagan Smith and 4 from Mosquera. They overcame a 9-3 North Stars run in the middle of the game that put them in a 17-13 hole with an 8-2 burst of their own to go up 21-19. An Anne Hughes ace gave them game point, and Carly Jimenez set Mosquera in the middle for a kill that forced the third game.
"In a gym like this I was very pleased with the way they battled back and won that game," Kull said. "We mixed it up, did some different things."
St. Charles East (12-4, 1-1) had its chance early in Game 3 to take control but missed three straight serves at one point and made several other mistakes.
"The first eight points of the third game were our errors," Kull said. "That's what you live and die with in volleyball."
Leading 15-14 Carroll served four straight points to open a 19-14 lead. The Saints did respond and closed within 21-20 on Mosquera's kill and 22-21 on a North Stars lift, but Krage's tip kill made it 23-21, and Claire Anderson slammed down a Saints overpass for a 24-21 lead setting up Krage's kill on match point.
"We were trying to treat this game like any other game and we just need to take care of business," Hawkins said. "I have so much respect for Jennie Kull and so much respect for that program and that school. We want to emulate their tradition."
Jaclyn Taylor and Daley Krage both had 6 kills for the North Stars and Anderson 4. Wohlert (5 digs), Seavey (10 digs), Sophia DuVall (3 blocks) and Carroll (3 blocks) all made key contributions.
Hughes (21 digs, 2 aces), Jimenez (36 assists, 13 digs), Smith (9 kills, 4 digs), Megan Schildmeyer (9 kills, 2 blocks, 6 digs), Mosquera (11 kills, 3 blocks) and Voltolina (9 kills) led the Saints.
"I was really proud of our kids," Kull said. "Everybody said this team was down or whatever and they proved we are not. If we eliminate those errors, those young mistakes we made, if we get that done by the end of the season, it's going to get better."