Whatever butterflies Geneva freshmen Grace Loberg and Ally Barrett have, they evidently get rid of them by hitting a volleyball ridiculously hard.
A week after putting down 21 kills in a loss to Batavia, Loberg notched a match-high 17 more in a 3-set thriller Tuesday against St. Charles North. Barrett delivered the final blow, smashing a North Stars overpass down on the Vikings' third match point to end their 25-22, 17-25, 26-24 victory.
"We were kind of going in as underdogs so we didn't have a lot of pressure and went out there and played our best," Barrett said when asked if she ever gets any freshman nerves.
A St. Charles North win would have all but sealed the Upstate Eight Conference River Division for the North Stars (15-3, 2-1), who already own wins over St. Charles East and Batavia.
Instead, Geneva (14-5, 2-1) not only kept itself in the hunt but also the Saints and Bulldogs in what is proving to be a short but highly entertaining conference race filled with one drama-filled 3-set match after another.
"It was an important one," Geneva coach KC Johnsen said. "You only get six conference games, and North is awfully good."
Ranked fourth and 13th, respectively, the North Stars and Vikings treated the crowd to a match filled with big blasts, blocks and digs.
The North Stars came out sluggish and the Vikings never trailed in winning Game 1. But the North Stars found their footing after that setting the stage for a back-and-forth, blow-for-blow third game that had fans standing for the final few points.
"I was really pleased with how loud and enthusiastic our crowd was tonight," Johnsen said. "They gave us a boost when we needed it."
The North Stars forced the eighth tie of Game 3 with back-to-back tense rallies to hold off two Geneva match points. With Loberg swinging away, the North Stars' Claire Anderson and Sophia DuVall were going high to block.
After the North Stars duo blocked Loberg to pull within 23-22, Loberg answered with a booming kill and a 24-22 lead.
Anderson and DuVall again went up to block Loberg and save a match point. After a match-saving dig from Alex Seavey on the following rally, Taylor Krage put down her 16th kill to tie the match at 24 as Johnsen called timeout.
Geneva quickly got the lead back on a Loberg kill to make it 25-24, and as both teams scrambled to keep the rally alive on the next point, Barrett's eyes lit up on a ball the North Stars passed a little too long, slamming it back to set off a wild Geneva celebration.
"I was just really excited because we really, really wanted to beat them because we haven't had a lot of wins at home," Barrett said. "I just went up there and I don't know. It was an amazing point. We all fought for that point. It wasn't just me. Everyone had amazing digs. And then everyone ran on the court and was screaming and it was a great feeling."
Krage did all she could for the North Stars in the opening game -- she had the team's first 6 kills of the match -- but Geneva was in control from start to finish. Loberg put away 6 kills in Game 1 including game point.
The Vikings jumped to a quick 3-1 lead in Game 2 but then lost Taylor Marmitt, one of just two seniors, to a foot injury. Daley Krage, Anderson and Jaclyn Taylor all had at least 3 kills in the second game as the North Stars got more players than Taylor Krage involved and looked to take the momentum to the third game.
Marmitt returned to the court early in Game 3 with the North Stars leading 5-1. She came up with a block to help start a 12-5 Geneva surge for a 13-10 lead, setting up the wild ride to the finish that saw teams tied at 16, 17, 18, 19 and 24.
"She (Marmitt) rolled her foot, she wasn't quite herself but she gave us a little more confidence and a little more emotional lift. It was nice to have her back out there," said Johnsen who complimented the play of Megan Schmidt filling in.
Hannah Lanasa added 7 kills and 6 blocks for the Vikings, and Maddie Courter (7 blocks) had two kills late in Game 3 when the Vikings broke from a 19-19 tie to a 24-22 lead. Kelsey Wicinski totaled 49 digs.
"We're playing two seniors and everyone else is out there playing and getting used to these situations and these moments," Johnsen said.
Daley Krage (6 kills), Emily Carroll (5 kills), Taylor (5 kills) and Anderson (4 kills) followed Taylor Krage for the North Stars who also got 19 assists from Taryn DalDegan, 15 from Sydney Wohlert and 2 aces and 20 digs by Seavey.
"A lot of mishandling balls, a lot of communication errors," North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins said. "It's unlike us. I just think we didn't come out as fired up as they could have or should have. We put ourselves in that situation and they took advantage of it and got the momentum going."