BATAVIA – One of a handful of memorable points that brought down the house in Thursday’s girls volleyball regional championship match between rivals Batavia and Geneva brought the Bulldogs within a point of the Vikings in the decisive third game.
The underdog Bulldogs had momentum at their backs when Heather Meyer provided an emphatic kill for her team’s fourth straight point moments after a tremendous, scrambling return by Geneva’s Courtney Caruso.
But the Vikings shook off Batavia’s crowd-pleasing rally, scoring the next six points for the cushion it needed in a 25-22, 21-25, 25-19 win in the IHSA Class 4A Batavia Regional championship game.
The Vikings notched a side-out to go ahead 9-7 in Game 3 before senior defensive specialist Megan Bell served five more points, giving the Vikings a 14-7 lead. Batavia came no closer than four points the rest of the way.
“It was one of those nerve-racking points where I knew my team was counting on me to get us ahead,” Bell said. “It was just one of those points where Batavia wanted it, but I didn’t want them to get it back.”
The second-seeded Vikings (28-9) advance to Tuesday’s Larkin Sectional semifinal, where No. 3 seed and conference rival St. Charles East awaits. The Vikings beat the Saints in a thriller to seize the Upstate Eight Conference River title in the last match of the conference season.
Geneva coach KC Johnsen said the third game unfolded in fortuitous fashion for his team.
“We almost [had Bell serve] to start that game, and then when it kind of worked out that she was serving at that crucial point anyway, I felt glad we talked ourselves out of that other rotation, Johnsen said.
If Geneva’s mid-game surge was the story of Game 3, it was a dynamite individual play by Vikings libero Kelly Dalheim that loomed largest in Geneva’s Game 1 win. With the Vikings ahead, 23-22, Batavia middle hitter Kristen Koncelik cracked one that seemed destined to tie the game, but Dalheim’s instinctual one-handed volley floated across the net and down to put Geneva ahead, 24-22.
Johnsen joked “that’s the play we called.”
“It happened to be just a perfect place,” Dalheim said of her desperate return.
Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne identified the play as one of the night’s major turning points.
“I think my team was celebrating a big swing, and the ball came back over the net,” Trippi-Payne said.
Despite absorbing a difficult Game 1 loss – Batavia had a narrow lead most of the game – the Bulldogs (20-17) regrouped for a quality second game, breaking free from an 18-all tie to pull away late.
All things considered, the Bulldogs gave a much stronger performance than when Geneva dominated the teams’ regular season meeting, also in Batavia.
“Earlier in the season, we weren’t ready yet for a match like this,” Trippi-Payne said. “By the end of the season, we were ready based on our strength of schedule and the way that we train. Our kids went out there and they gave it all they had.”
Koncelik, an Evansville recruit, had 10 kills for the Bulldogs. Meyer had six, while Shea Stanley added six kills and six blocks and Briahna Havis paced a balanced Bulldogs defensive effort with 13 digs.
The most symmetrical stat of the night belonged to Geneva’s three-pronged setter rotation of Nicole Schneider, Sammy Gola and Caruso, who each had 10 assists. Senior Jess Wicinski led the Vikings with 10 kills – including the match-clincher – and Wicinski added six blocks, second on the team to sophomore Maddie Courter (seven).
Dalheim notched a match-high 25 digs and teammate Hannah Buck added nine kills and 15 digs.
The match featured several tremendous efforts to keep balls in play, one of which almost put the chair referee in harm’s way. The will to win on both sides was no surprise to Johnsen, a veteran of the Bulldogs-Vikings rivalry.
“When we play each other, it seems like there’s always a plethora of spectacular saves and plays because everyone is competing with everything they’ve got on every ball,” Johnsen said. “We had some points we thought we scored, and the next thing I know, it was their point coming back at us. That makes for a pretty exciting match, I think.”