Batavia has tough climb facing Claire Grove, Neuqua Valley

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Claire Grove seems mighty comfortable when she steps to the service line.

Her opponent? Well, not so much — and that’s the whole idea.

“I always have the mentality that I want to keep them on their toes,” the Neuqua Valley junior said. “Bring them something hard, and make it difficult for them.”

Grove and later teammate Emily Krachenfels had Batavia on its heels during long service point runs Thursday night, the Wildcats taking the 25-16, 25-22 Upstate Eight crossover match in Naperville.

A Batavia error in Game 1 gave Grove serve with Neuqua (18-8) ahead 9-7 —and she proceeded to roll off 11 consecutive points. Like a baseball pitcher Grove effectively mixed short, soft attempts with the hard stuff, one of those power balls landing for an ace and 19-7 Wildcats lead. She followed that up with a back-row kill off a Batavia block to complete the run. Abby Skryd also wedged a pair of kills through a Batavia block during the 12-0 stretch.

In Game 2, Neuqua quickly put Batavia behind the eight ball as Krachenfels served six straight points for a 7-1 advantage. Krachenfels landed a soft serve for an ace, and for good measure knocked in a kill and connected with Kaelan Haag for a quick-set kill.

Neuqua only trailed once in the match, 1-0 in Game 2.

“We’ve been complimented by other teams for our serving,” Grove said. “We wanted to get up and not get too comfortable ourselves.”

Batavia (8-16) wouldn’t let the Wildcats grow too cozy in Game 2. Down 14-5, the Bulldogs clawed back to close within 18-15, then got all the way back to 24-22 on a kill by middle Anna Clausen. Neuqua finally held off Batavia’s furious rally on the next point, Alexis Douglas driving a kill just under the dig attempt of Katelynn Fegan.

“That second set, we really gave them all they could handle,” Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne said. “I give our kids a lot of credit.”

Kudos, too, for doing so short-handed. With senior middle Jancy Lundberg out sick, junior outside Maddy Astling stepped in and played middle for the first time since club season. Clausen had seven kills and Sam Bradle 14 assists for the Bulldogs.

“One thing we do have on this team is kids who can play multiple positions,” Trippi-Payne said. “We’re lucky in that respect.”

Haag had 10 kills with zero errors for Neuqua, Douglas five kills and Grove four. Krachenfels added 16 assists, Haag 12, and Caricia Rodriguez totaled 13 digs.

Neuqua also was stellar defensively, usually a department Batavia excels in. Libero Nora Meehan is a big reason, but so is a persistent block Neuqua presents.

“Even though we’re not getting a ton of blocks, the more solid our block is it makes it a whole lot easier for our defense,” Neuqua coach Kelly Simon said. “Our second line is having a whole lot more chances to be successful because of our block.”

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