Having played well at early-season tournaments at Metea Valley and West Aurora, St. Ignatius headed into two tough nonconference tests a day apart.

The Wolfpack was set to face two of the East Suburban Catholic Conference’s best teams, Nazareth Academy and Marian Catholic.

For senior Anna Bradley, the goal was simple: win some tough matchups.

“We came in against Nazareth and Marian knowing these are great teams,” Bradley said. “They’re probably two of the best teams we’ve played so far. Our goal was to take them in three sets.”

St. Ignatius was definitely up to the challenge.

After defeating Nazareth on Sept. 8 in 2 sets, the Wolfpack went on the road for a fun 25-19, 25-22 victory on Sept. 9 at Marian Catholic.

St. Ignatius improved to 9-4 with the back-to-back wins.

Against Marian Catholic, Bradley finished with 8 kills and 5 digs.

“The goal was win in 3 sets, but fortunately we won both in 2 sets,” Bradley said. “Both were great games. We were proud of how we played in both wins.”

Closing out the first set, Bradley delivered repeatedly late in the match with 4 kills as St. Ignatius regrouped from a 15-13 deficit.

Bradley showed off her hitting repertoire, floating 2 kills over the block, taking advantage of a high dig and smashing the ball with authority and then battling through the block on a ball that was deflected out.

When her team needed her, Bradley wanted to swing away.

“We were able to bring that drive and that passion of wanting to win and wanting it so bad,” Bradley said. “That’s what brought us together. Even if I got blocked, I was still determined to win and keep pushing. We needed to have that anger.”

However, Bradley wasn’t a one-woman show as sophomore middle Gabrielle Williams stole the spotlight in the second set.

Relatively quiet through the midway point in the second, Williams went to work with 4 late kills as St. Ignatius fought back from a 16-14 hole.

Tied at 22-22 late, the Wolfpack closed courtesy of 2 Marian errors and a Williams kill.

It wasn’t any huge momentum-swinging kill. Williams skied for the ball and got just enough on her swing for the tip across the net.

The ball landed out of reach of the defense, putting Ignatius up 24-22.

“In my mind, I’m thinking ‘Just get it over the net! Just get it over the block!’” Williams said. “The ball just happened to go right over her fingertips.”

Williams finished with 8 kills overall.

In her first varsity season, she’s quickly clicked with her teammates and just as quickly found a rhythm on the court.

“I’m feeling good. It’s nice to play with all these girls,” Williams said. “They’re all so good. We have a good team chemistry, we get along really well, and we’ve got a lot of talent on the different parts of our team.”

Bradley has been especially impressed with the sophomore’s ability.

“Gabby has improved so much. She came in a little shy, and you get it; she’s a sophomore on the varsity,” Bradley said. “She comes in and can jump so high and just slam the ball down. She has that big swing and knocks it straight down. That has definitely helped us win a lot of our games this season.”

Seniors Kat Cox (21 assists, 5 digs, 3 aces), Katie Johnson (17 digs) and Kiya Levy (3 blocks), sophomore Olivia Daszynski (5 kills) and juniors Isabella Alvarez (9 digs) and Emily Owens (2 kills) all chipped in for the Wolfpack.

In her second season starting on the varsity, Cox knew to feed the hot hand late.

“If she’s hot, I’ll force feed the ball,” Cox said with a smile. “If I’m off the net, I find her hands, and Gabby always finds a way to put the ball down. Whenever I have that perfect pass, I’m trying to keep my middles involved. Any chance I can set the middle, I’ll do it, even force the ball their way.”

Bradley added 2 kills and Daszynski one of her own as St. Ignatius closed the second set on an extended 11-6 run.

Leading the way for Marian Catholic were seniors Sara Johnson (7 kills), Erica Sledge (14 assists), Nyah Moustakas (2 kills, 3 blocks) and Margaret Polewaczyk (3 kills) and juniors Mila Popovic (9 digs), Lexi Jackson (3 kills) and Kauri Thompson (2 aces).

With St. Ignatius heading into its Girls Catholic Athletic Conference schedule, Cox is confident the Wolfpack will deliver more big wins.

“This is definitely a good start,” Cox said. “We’re all putting in our best effort. We don’t stress out, even if we’re playing a really good team. We know how good we can be when we’re on. If we’re giving our best effort, I think we can beat any team.”