Being able to perform under pressure is a tall order, but all season long, Neuqua Valley has been up to the task.
“Our team does really good with pressure and making the other team make mistakes,” Neuqua’s Kaelan Haag said. “You get in that mindset that if this ball goes over here, it doesn’t matter what happens, I’m going for it, and eventually you’ll start getting balls up.”
Down 24-21 in its third game against St. Charles North, Neuqua got a pair of kills from Haag and one from Abby Skryd down the stretch to come back and cap off an 11-25, 25-22, 26-24 win Tuesday night.
The Upstate Eight crossover between the top two teams in the Valley and River divisions not only gave Neuqua Valley (25-10, 8-0) conference bragging rights, it also set a new mark for wins in a season for the program.
St. Charles North (25-9, 6-2) came out strong, building a 12-1 lead with Jacyln Taylor serving and holding the Wildcats off to take Game 1, which ended with a fine dig by Megan Russell that cleared the net and gave the North Stars game point.
Neuqua knew it had to right the ship.
“We were making a lot of errors and they weren’t having to do anything,” Haag said. “Once we realized that all we had to do was hit it as far as we could, tip it as far as we could, and do whatever we had to do to put the ball where they’re not.”
Game 2 was more of a nip-and-tuck affair all the way to a 21-21 tie. That’s when Neuqua won four of the last five points to prevail.
Game 3 was more of the same, tied at 20-20, before St. Charles North took its 24-21 lead. A pair of mistakes hurt the North Stars down the stretch.
“It comes down to making mental errors and we just made more than they did,” North coach Lindsey Hawkins said. “We missed some key serves that changed the momentum and I felt like we started pulling back a little bit — we were making more hole shots than good swings, and you can’t go down like that.”
Neuqua’s win avenged a three-game loss to North early in the season, and the teams will meet again in a Class 4A regional opener on Oct. 28.
Claire Grove led North with 10 kills, while Haag and Skryd had eight apiece. Haag also had 18 assists and two blocks and Emily Krachenfels had 14 assists and 15 digs. Nora Meehan led the way with 21 digs.
North got 14 assists from Taryn Dal Degan, 10 digs from Russell, and 12 kills from Claire Anderson.