GENEVA – Sam Vanda had one more authoritative serve in her to complete the mission.
Vanda, the Geneva sophomore, struck the match point serve with her left hand. It soared straight to Batavia senior star Amanda Otten. Only this time, it bounced off her dig attempt and into the back wall to ensure Geneva’s 25-13, 25-20 victory over the Bulldogs in the Class 4A Geneva Regional semifinal on Tuesday.
“As soon as we knew we were playing Batavia for regionals, our mentality was ‘watch film; do what you have to to be ready to go,’” Vanda said among the sea of students who crashed the floor in celebration. “’You can’t have a bad game. You’ve just got to go, go, go all the time. You’ve got to be ready to do what it takes.”
Geneva (17-19) now will face Benet, who defeated Plainfield East 25-6, 25-12 in the first semifinal, for the regional final on Thursday, Oct. 27. Benet enters with a 30-4 record.
The Vikings will vie for their first regional title since 2016. The Redwings have won 14 regional titles under coach Brad Baker dating back to 2007.
Geneva, particularly in the first set, appeared ready for the task in front of them. Led by a barrage of Vanda, Lauren Benson, Abby Buban and Fiona Turnbull, Geneva quickly took command.
“Batavia is a good team. Any time you play Batavia, it’s different emotions, right?” Vikings coach Lauren Kosecki said. “It’s our rival and they’re coached well and they do a nice job. Kudos to them. We’ve had a couple of really good practices. We’ve been finishing our season pretty strong and peaking at that point. They wanted this and they showed that.”
Batavia (18-18) re-set in the second set for a 14-7 lead, but the Vikings slowly clawed back in thanks to strong net play by Benson, Buban and Batavia attack errors.
After later trading brief leads and ties at 18, Geneva began to pull away. Vanda had a kill and that was followed by a Batavia attack error. Batavia’s Julianna Cornwell had a big block at the net to keep the Bulldogs alive, but Benson then followed with a pair of blocks to make it 23-19 Vikings.
Otten, a Bowling Green commit, put down her final kill to pull within three, but Turnbull had two kills to set up match point. Vanda took care of the rest.
The Vikings were led by Vanda’s seven kills and two aces. Buban had four kills and three aces, Turnbull had three kills. Batavia was paced by Otten’s 10 kills. Claire Ellward had three kills.
“[Geneva] came out swinging. We knew it was going to be a battle and that’s what I told them that second set,” Batavia coach McKenna Kelsay said. “First set, for sure, we didn’t come out the way [we needed to]. We couldn’t really do much on our side. [Geneva] were the aggressors and we were kind of like sitting back and waiting for them to come at us. I think we did a much better job of it second set. I love the way we came out.”
Batavia, who lost to Geneva in three sets in the regular season, will graduate 13 off of its varsity roster.
“It’s a great group,” Kelsay said. “They’ve been leaders for four years. They’ve taken this team and been leaders. With our two sophomores, it has never been ‘us and them’. I’m so proud of them and it makes me emotional, obviously, to think about losing those kids. All 13 of them.”
Otten, a four-year star for the Bulldogs, will remember the 2022 team, in particular.
“This year, out of all my years being on varsity, this will be the team that I will remember,” Otten said. “Because of our connection and because a lot of us are seniors. There’s so many of us, but even though were two sophomores, it didn’t feel like two sophomores. We were all just one big family and community. We all loved [each other] so much. We just have so much fun together.”