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Prep Zone

Schwab: Upstate Eight River volleyball race short but sweet

The saying maintains there can be too much of a good thing, but this year’s Upstate Eight Conference girls volleyball season shows the opposite is worse.

There just haven’t been enough Tri-Cities volleyball showdowns in a season begging for them. The Upstate Eight Conference race will come to a head next week, with Tuesday’s Geneva-St. Charles East match likely to determine which team will tie St. Charles North for the conference championship.

As of last Tuesday afternoon, all four Tri-Cities teams – Batavia, Geneva, East and North – had only one conference loss. Then again, the losses don’t pile up too high with only six conference matches counting toward the River race.

The seven River teams only play each other once in conference play, and when you take into account that most years there are at least two or three weaker programs, that only leaves a few meaningful conference tests for each of the contenders.

Geneva coach KC Johnsen said he’d like teams to play each other home and away – as is the case in sports such as basketball – to create a larger sample size for determining the conference champion.

Johnsen, however, isn’t dwelling on the UEC’s scheduling procedure, noting that the one-crack-at-each-school format makes for some exciting, high-stakes showdowns.

“It’s not hard to find some positives about that situation, so that’s what we do with it,” Johnsen said. “It does make for some pretty intense moments.”

Batavia seemed on the doorstep of sharing a conference title Tuesday after dominating host St. Charles East in the first game of the match. But the Saints – despite missing two key middle hitters – found their footing in time to turn back the Bulldogs, 19-25, 25-20, 25-15.

To substantiate how competitive the Tri-Cities girls volleyball scene is this fall, simply glance at the postseason seedings. In the 21-team, Class 4A Geneva Sectional, the Tri-Cities teams hold the 2 (North), 3 (East), 4 (Geneva) and 5 (Batavia) seeds.

“I love the competitiveness of this conference,” Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne said after her team’s loss to East. “Doesn’t it make it all worthwhile? If we would have come out here and won this match tonight, wouldn’t that make it feel like ‘Gosh, we have to be really good to win this conference.’ ”

Trippi-Payne said conference coaches will likely re-examine bylaws about how scheduling is handled, but said she has mixed feelings about playing intradivision opponents twice each season. She used this year’s East team as an example of the pros and cons, noting that Saints coach Jennie Kull surely would like another crack at St. Charles North after the crosstown North Stars won the lone meeting, but adding that East might not have had room on its schedule for defending state champion Benet – which East defeated – if another six matches were accounted for with more conference dates.

But playing 12 UEC River games doesn’t seem like overreaching. More than half of a team’s schedule would still be nonconference and UEC crossover opponents, and there is less chance of a conference title being dictated by injuries or other short-term circumstances that can make for a screwy result on a certain night.

For now, the focus shifts to Tuesday’s East-Geneva match, with North needing only to beat lightly regarded Streamwood to clinch its share of the conference.

“The past couple years I’ve been playing in this conference, there’s always been one team that’s been dominating, and this year it’s so much fun,” East libero Anne Hughes said. “It just makes the games more intense and more energetic. Every ball, every point matters.”

It’s a sprint, not a marathon, and this year’s race is a photo finish.

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or

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