ELGIN – Geneva girls volleyball players eventually huddled between games of Tuesday’s 4A Larkin Sectional semifinal against St. Charles East.
That’s customary, of course, but the Vikings also displayed a bit more unusual behavior for a match of this magnitude.
Waiting for coach KC Johnsen to convene them into a circle, players danced to “Cotton Eye Joe” as it played over the loudspeaker. It wasn’t the only time the Vikings refused to show nerves during a 25-22, 25-19 sweep of their familiar foe.
While Geneva didn’t boast momentum throughout the match, its confidence made it easier to overtake the Saints whenever they rallied.
“Once you get the first game under your belt, it’s almost like a sigh of relief, like you have that second-game cushion,” Geneva junior middle Taylor Marmitt said. “You have that chance to win right then and there, but if you don’t, you have that first-game victory so you can still get it back.”
The Saints and Vikings split their first two meetings this season, with East winning at the Mizuno Cup on Oct. 6 before Geneva rebounded to defend its home court, 25-27, 29-27, 25-20, 10 days later. That victory marked the Vikings’ first against the Saints in three Upstate Eight Conference River Division matches and clinched Geneva’s first UEC River crown.
Having graduated much of its lineup from last season’s third-place state tournament team, East (23-13) shook off an 0-4 start and a Caitlyn Ballard stress fracture injury en route to this round.
Third-year varsity setter Erienne Barry, a Western Michigan recruit, dished 15 assists in the final match of her career. Classmate Nicole Woods, another experienced returnee, had eight kills.
Barry called Geneva’s defense “phenomenal,” as the 6-foot-1 Marmitt (seven blocks) and 6-0 Maddie Courter (six) were formidable up front.
Kelly Dalheim added 20 digs for the 29-9 Vikings, who left the Saints frustrated but didn’t drain their perspective.
“I’m extremely proud of everyone,” Barry said. “It has been an amazing four years here, and especially this team. We proved everyone wrong at regionals, I think. Even though we were the No. 3 seed, we had to believe in ourselves. It was such a great team, and I’m just sad it’s over.”
Second-seeded Geneva advanced to Thursday’s sectional final against No. 1 Glenbard West, which defeated the Vikings in its own tournament earlier this season.
That match required three games, one of just three instances in which the Hilltoppers were pushed to that distance.
Geneva overcame point-for-point tension for the first sequence of Game 1 thanks to a block that created opportunities for a varied attack. Two consecutive kills from Jess Wicinski – who finished with a team-high six – gave the Vikings a 19-14 lead.
After the Saints pulled to within 21-20 behind an Emma Johnson kill and a block from Mikaela Mosquera, Geneva setter Courtney Caruso spread the ball to Hannah Buck and Marmitt down the stretch. Both players finished with five kills apiece.
“We knew Batavia wanted another shot at us [in the regional finals]. We knew East wanted another shot at us,” Johnsen said. “And we kept saying we want another shot at Glenbard West, but we aren’t going to get one if we don’t play well. So they played well.”
The Vikings capitalized on three Saints errors during a 5-0 run to grab a 16-14 lead in the clinching game. Continuing the trend of the season series, East tightened things to 20-18 before successive Saints errors put the Vikings on the brink of advancing.
Carly Jimenez (seven kills) and Anne Hughes (seven digs) are among East’s expected returners next season.
“We worked on a lot of things. We knew what we needed to do. We just weren’t able to execute,” Saints coach Jennie Kull said. “And Geneva did a really nice job. I think they came through and they’re a very good defensive team. Might not be flashy and all that, but they get balls up and they keep control of the ball. And frankly, we just made too many errors.”