Emotions were plentiful during Tuesday's Senior Night festivities prior to St. Charles North's girls volleyball match against Larkin.
But the North Stars (17-5, 4-1) were able to keep their wits when it mattered most during a 25-21, 25-21 Upstate Eight Conference River Division triumph over the visiting Royals (14-12, 2-3).
In Game 1, the Royals trimmed a 21-16 deficit to a single point at 21-20 before a timely back-row kill from senior outside hitter Taylor Krage (team-high 6 kills, 8 digs) gave the momentum back to the North Stars.
In the second game, St. Charles North jumped out to leads of 8-3, 14-7 and 16-9 before the Royals mounted another comeback.
Led by seniors Olivia Kofie (match-high 12 kills) and Brianna Stewart (7 kills, 4 blocks), Larkin scored 6 consecutive points to draw within 16-15.
Moments later, an ace from Kofie pulled the Royals within a point at 18-17. Each time, Krage answered with powerful kills to help the North Stars maintain their slim lead.
After Sofie's back-row kill cut St. Charles North's lead to 22-21, the North Stars finally slammed the door on the Royals with a kill from sophomore Daley Krage.
"She is our go-to player (Taylor Krage) but it's a credit to the other girls on the team because they are such offensive weapons that they allow her to be that go-to person," said North Stars coach Lindsey Hawkins.
Senior middle blocker Sophia DuVall collected 5 kills for the North Stars, while senior Corrinne Sullivan and sophomore Claire Anderson each had 4 kills.
"You never know what we're going to run because we have so many weapons," said Hawkins. "We look down the bench and any one of those girls is ready to go at any time and is a real viable threat for us. That's a nice 'problem' to have. I love that -- it just makes my job easier."
With the win, the North Stars inched closer to clinching at least a share of the conference title.
But this night was reserved for St. Charles North's 8 seniors -- Alex Seavey (12 digs), Sydney Wohlert (11 assists), Camille Kott, Alex Woytich, Shea Miller, Taylor Krage, DuVall and Sullivan.
"There were a lot of emotions, especially before the game," said Taylor Krage. "We had our speeches and a lot of them got emotional but we wanted to cut the emotions off as soon as warm-ups started."
The Northern Illinois University-bound Krage also had to fight through the emotions of facing Larkin's Kofie and Stewart -- teammates on Club Fusion's U17 national championship squad this past summer.
"It's fun to go up against them because I haven't seen them in a while," said Krage. "You know each other's little quirks and what shots they might hit."
The narrow defeat served as a bitter reminder for Larkin coach Henry Graack.
"That's kind of been how our season has been going," said Graack. "We're 14-12 now and the losses have been close ones. We just can't get those last couple points."
Playing in a conference with Batavia, Geneva and the two St. Charles schools can get frustrating but Graack quickly turned it into a positive for his team.
"I think we've got one of the toughest conferences in the state just because we're all fairly level," said Graack. "It's tough but it will get us ready for regionals."