Girls Volleyball: St Charles East topples rival St Charles NorthSt. Charles East's Caitlyn Ballard saves a ball from going out of bounds against St. Charles North during Tuesday's sectional semifinal match at East. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2011 9:29PM
There are certain matches where having the calming influence of eight seniors on the roster are just what a team needs to overcome adversity.
That’s what St. Charles East’s volleyball relied on after dropping the first game to rival St. Charles North in Tuesday’s Class 4A St. Charles East Sectional semifinal.
The second-seeded Saints fell behind by five points early, recovered to take a six-point lead late, and wound up dropping the game, 25-23, to the sixth-seeded North Stars.
Instead of panicking, however, East recovered behind its seniors to rally for wins of 25-19 and 25-17 to win the match and advance to Thursday’s 7 p.m. sectional championship match against top-seeded York. The Saints will be looking for their 11th sectional title in program history.
“That was a great battle tonight,” East coach Jennie Kull said. “It’s our gym, and it’s North, and I have these eight seniors. I think it was a senior-led turnaround. It was unbelievable. I told the kids in the first game, it’s All Saint’s Day. This is our day. This is our gym. We need to win this. That’s what we did.”
North (24-12) jumped out early, taking a 6-1 lead in Game 1. But the Saints (32-6) methodically came back, eventually taking the lead for the first time at 15-14. Suddenly, after two Meghan Niski kills and a kill from Nichole Lambert, the lead swelled to 21-15. Niski paced the Saints with 17 kills. But the North Stars, led by three Kim Juriga kills, came back yet again to win the first game.
“That’s been the story of our season,” North coach Lindsey Hawkins said. “We rally, especially when the game is on the line. When things our tough, my seniors step up big. They didn’t want to go home tonight.”
Neither did the Saints.
North jumped out to a 16-11 lead in Game 2, needing only nine points to stunningly end the Saints’ season on their own court. Lambert went off, however, to prevent that from happening. Four kills and one of her match-high eight blocks (to go along with 11 kills) helped the Saints roar back and win going away, 25-19. They ended the game on a 14-3 run.
“It was mostly mental,” Lambert said. “We had a bad start and we decided that wasn’t going to end our season. We’ve seen them a million times. We felt like it was time to take care of business.”
The Saints rolled that momentum into the decisive third game. The North Stars scored the first point of the third, but that was the last lead they’d have all night. East cruised to the win in the third to set up Thursday’s showdown with York, a team the Saints have yet to face this season.
“We probably need a day to get ourselves together physically,” Kull said. “That was a battle. (York is) a really good team. They’re talented and experienced as well. We’ll have to play our best. We can’t come out sluggish like we did tonight.”