SCHAUMBURG – Mental toughness might be the reason the St. Charles East girls volleyball team came away from Schaumburg High School with a Class 4A regional championship Thursday night.
The Saints trailed late in both games against the host Saxons before rallying to win 25-23, 25-23.
“It’s not experience, but it’s almost that we want it so bad,” East senior Nicole Woods said. “That was our goal from the beginning of the season – just to get as far as we possibly can, and that’s really what’s driving us and what made us win.”
Woods, a Memphis recruit, led everyone on the night with 17 kills, none bigger than the last one from the left outside that ended the match. The Saints trailed by as many as six points in the game and were down 22-19 before scoring six of the final seven points.
Senior Nikki Luczynski came off the bench to serve up a big ace for the Saints and junior Ashley Bullock put away a free ball in the middle to finally tie the game at 23. Erienne Barry’s second ace of the game finally put East in front.
“It’s teamwork,” Barry said when asked how the Saints were able to come from behind in each game. “We’ve worked so hard in practice. We have each other’s backs. I’m so comfortable on the court with them. Everyone has confidence.”
East (23-12) fell behind immediately in the first game, finally tied the score at 17, but fell behind 22-18. Senior outside hitter Emma Johnson gave the Saints a spark with two of her nine kills and sophomore middle hitter Mikaela Mosquera came up with a block to tie the game again at 23.
Woods ended the game with a tip over the Schaumburg front line.
“It’s something about this team,” Woods said. “We all trust each other. We all believe each other that we can pass and set it and hit it down. Honestly, it’s believing in each other. That’s all it is.”
Senior Kelly Koutnik played an outstanding match for the Saxons (20-17) in her final high school match.
“The most impressive thing is how Schaumburg played,” East coach Jennie Kull said. “I think they did a phenomenal job. ... They were prepared and they were ready to go.”
Kull had her own explanation of how the Saints were able to overcome a determined band of Saxons.
“I think what that comes down to is our leadership – the kids that have been there before,” she said. “I think Nicole and Erienne and even Caitlyn [Ballard] on the bench here. Those kids are able to guide and lead and they don’t stop. So I think that’s a tribute to them.”
East will face No. 2 seed Geneva on Tuesday in the Larkin Sectional semifinal. That makes the third-seeded Saints a slight underdog, but Western Michigan recruit Barry said she welcomes the pressure.
“We talk about pressure all the time,” she said. “We invite pressure and we love it. We handle it very well, and that’s the good part about it. So we love it. It makes the game more fun.”