CRYSTAL LAKE — Midway through the season, Prairie Ridge has emerged as the team to beat in the Fox Valley Conference.
That trend continued Tuesday, when the Wolves coasted to a commanding 25-15, 25-4 straight-set win over Cary-Grove. P-R (14-2, 8-0 FVC) has now defeated each team in the conference once, and still sits in sole possession of first place.
"We're a confident team that has very high goals," Wolves senior Jayden Otto said. "Our first goal is to win conference. We've talked about state being one of our goals, too. But that's getting way ahead of ourselves. We still have to work for it. Nothing is going to be handed to us, and it's only going to get more difficult from here."
Difficulty wasn't something the Wolves had much of against the Trojans. They never trailed, and opened both the first and second sets with a pair of 7-2 runs. They also reeled off 14 straight points during the second set, sparked by senior Anna Tulke's four aces.
"I was just following hand signals coach (Stefanie Otto) was giving me prior to serving," Tulke said. "One thing we've been working on in practice is more sideline serves, so I used a few of those. But I also tried to drop in a few real short serves to mix things up and catch them off-guard."
Prairie Ridge's front line was dominant, as it has been most of the season, led by 6-foot-3 Notre Dame recruit Sammi Lockwood (team-best eight kills), 6-1 Olivia Annen (six kills) and 5-11 Trinity Sheridan (five kills).
Even opposing Trojans coach Patty Langanis praised their efforts.
"Prairie Ridge's block was just too big and too talented for us to overcome," Langanis said. "And we weren't putting balls down, in large part because their front line is awful hard to hit through if you don't get a perfect set."
As good as the Wolves have been, Stefanie Otto has cautioned her players about overconfidence, noting they don't have what she considers a "signature win" outside the FVC.
"I'm proud of the effort these girls have put forth thus far," Stefanie Otto said. "But we still need to work on our serve receive, and need to pick it up defensively.
"Plus, our goal every play is to be in position to have all three of our hitters finish a ball. We rank our passes to our hitters. Tonight, we had a 1.8 passing score (on a 3.0 scale). That's not good enough. We need to be 2.0 or better, so the scoreboard was a bit deceiving from our perspective."
Cary-Grove (6-9, 3-5) was led by Kate Selsky (12 digs) and Jenna Splitt (two kills).
"We tried some new personnel in the first set, mixed some things up, and that didn't go as well as we'd hoped," Langanis said. "And when we returned to our regulars and first-line players later in the match, things just kind of snowballed and fell apart from there. Our struggles are more mental, than anything. There's a lot of ability there. We just need to focus better and harness that."
STAR OF THE MATCH
Anna Tulke, Prairie Ridge, sr., defensive specialist
Tulke had four aces during a 14-0 Wolves run in the second set.
0: Times Prairie Ridge trailed during Tuesday's Fox Valley Conference match.
AND ANOTHER THING...
P-R was strong near the net. Six different Wolves tallied kills, including one by sophomore libero Olivia Jost.