Girls Volleyball: St. Charles East downs Larkin in UEC River
By Gene Chamberlain For Sun-Times Media September 4, 2012 8:12PM
St. Charles East's Nicole Woods (5) defends against Larkin's Brianna Stewart on Tuesday. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 6, 2012 1:54PM
It could have been the high heat in Larkin’s gym, and certainly the heat brought to bear by the Royals’ determined duo of Brianna Stewart and Olivia Kofie made matters even tougher for defending Upstate Eight River champion St. Charles East early in Tuesday’s conference opener for both teams.
However, the Saints recovered nicely in the second set behind the hitting of seniors Caitlyn Ballard and Nicole Woods to come away with a 25-21, 25-18 victory.
“I’ve always wanted to be a force up front, and I feel like we’re using me more, so I’m really happy about that,” said Ballard. “Nicole jumps a little higher and hits a little harder in general. I’m trying to contribute where I can.”
The Saints (6-5), third in the state last year, return just three players who had roles with the team last season. One was Ballard, who had over 100 kills last season. She had four of her team’s final six kills in the second set to keep Larkin at a distance after Woods had three early kills to get her team off to a 4-2 lead in the second set.
Woods had five of her eight kills on the night and Ballard three kills in the first set, but the Saints struggled and trailed Larkin 15-12 and then 19-18 before rallying for seven of the set’s final nine points. In the first set, Larkin ran off six straight points at one stretch for an 11-10 lead, and all six points came on wide, net or long hits by the Saints.
“The heat really got to us,” Ballard said. “It is really hot. It seemed like it got us out of our game. Going from gym to gym, it varies every day.
“But in the second game we seemed to get the ball in play more and once we got it in play we seemed like we got it all out of our system and we were a little more conscious of their top two players.”
Larkin had two blocks, six kills and five digs from Stewart, five digs, five kills, and two blocks from Western Michigan-bound Kofie and three kills and three kills from Anna Gaston, and didn’t come away displeased with the result despite the loss. Especially after the 1-4 weekend the Royals (4-5) went through at the Willowbrook tournament.
“I think our problem was more a lack of practicing or playing together with our first squad the last few days,” Larkin coach Henry Graack said.
Over the weekend the team was without Stewart and setter Alyssa McGhee went out with a head injury when she took a knee to the head. The team was without backup setter Diana Castillo, as well, and Kofie, at 6-2, had to do the setting.
“I wasn’t coaching last year but saw the match with East and so this match is a step in the right direction,” Graack said. “You can’t go from zero to 100 in half a season or an off-season.”