Benet coach Jeff Steinberg cautioned before Wednesday’s game at Downers Grove North that the Trojans are a team that is only going to get better as the season progresses.
He just hoped they didn’t get too good too soon.
The Redwings rebounded from a strong second-set effort by the hosts and used a 6-1 run midway through the third to break a 12-12 tie and defeat the Trojans 25-16, 21-25, 25-21.
Downers Grove North gave Benet everything Steinberg expected … and more.
“They played really well,” he said. “They have a big block. Their outsides and middles were strong. They have a real scrappy defense. I felt like our offense was doing what it was supposed to do, they were just picking everything up.
“But we stuck to our system of volleyball and it paid off in the end,” he added. “Our boys didn’t get frazzled. They kept playing and committed to it. There were a couple of calls that didn’t go our way and in the past we’d let that get to us. This time we didn’t.”
Benet (14-6) took command early in the first set and built a 19-10 lead that proved too great for Downers Grove North to overcome. The second set was a different story, however.
The Trojans broke an 18-18 deadlock on kills by 6-foot-1 junior Griffen Liszka, 6-3 outside hitter Michael Price and 6-8 middle hitter Owen Wahlgren. A Wahlgren kill closed out the game after his block gave the hosts set point at 24-20.
“They picked up their game, but we just kind of went back on our heels,” Benet's 6-2 outside hitter John Folts said. “We won the first set and we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll win the second.’ That's not how it works. You have to keep fighting.”
Benet took an early 12-9 lead in the third set, but Downers North took advantage of three consecutive Benet miscues to tie Game 3 at 12-12.
However, a kill by Benet’s 6-2 freshman outside hitter Auggie Mazza sparked a 6-1 run that allowed the visitors to side out the remainder of the set.
Folts led Benet with 8 kills, 6-5 middle hitter Connor Simchak added 7 kills and 2 blocks, Mazza had 4 kills and 3 blocks and 5-10 setter Tommy Kmieciak spread the wealth with 22 assists.
“I feel like we’re getting better every week,” Folts said. “All the hours we put in practice definitely helps, but we’re really getting a lot of the challenges on the court and it's allowing us to see what we need to work, see what we do well and improve on all those things.”
Price had a team-best 10 kills for Downers Grove North, which lost eight contributing seniors from last year’s sectional finalist and has been gaining experience on the fly against a schedule that has included top 20 teams like Naperville Central, Glenbard West and Wheaton North.
“Our schedule is one where there is no opportunity to take a breath, and so we have to learn and overcome and respond and execute at the moment against high-level opponents,” Downers North coach Mark Wasik said.
“That’s something you want so that it becomes a normal later, but sometimes with developing teams there’s no rest for the weary,” he added. “You just have to keep grinding it out and stay positive. I'm learning myself to keep it positive because I have expectations for these guys.”
The Trojans can meet some of their coach's expectations this weekend at the Richard Griesheim Invitational hosted by Downers Grove South, where Downers North is seeded ninth in the 24-team field.
“I do believe this is a nice team,” Wasik said. “The baseline is there, the experience is not … across the board. But they’re a fun group and I like the path we’re on.”
It began innocently enough in Game 1 with a kill by Neuqua Valley’s Jeremy Grove that gave the Wildcats a 9-7 lead after Naperville Central had fought back from an early 6-0 deficit.
But Grove’s kill also sent 6-foot-7 junior setter Kevin Kauling to the service line for the second time in the game, and Kauling made the Redhawks pay for their early foibles.
Kauling scattered five aces during a personal 10-0 service run, and most of his other serves led to free balls lollipopped over the net as Naperville Central struggled to serve-receive and mount any meaningful offense.
Game 2 was a little tighter, but Neuqua Valley prevailed to take home a 25-14, 25-18 victory in a DuPage Valley Conference match between two of the league’s heavyweights.
“We played really well, especially against a great program like Naperville Central,” Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. “They've always have excellent volleyball teams. It was good for our guys to come out the way we did, especially the way last week went.”
Neuqua Valley (15-2, 1-1 in the DuPage Valley) was coming off consecutive losses to Glenbard West in the finals of Springfest at Glenbard East and a surprising road loss to DuPage Valley Conference foe Metea Valley.
But thanks to Grove’s 10 kills and Kauling’s 7 aces, the Wildcats were able to overcome their mid-season blues Tuesday.
“It just clicked after my first two serves,” Kauling said of his long service run. “Once I get going, the more I get, the harder I rip it.”
If consecutive losses weren’t enough to inspire Neuqua Valley, the Wildcats’ familiarity with their opponents added more incentive.
“We know a lot of (Naperville Central’s players) by playing club against them,” Kauling said. “We were a little pumped up play them.”
Naperville Central did little to aid its own case. The Redhawks were guilty of 11 service errors and 15 unforced errors during the match.
“We had five missed serves in the first set,” Naperville Central coach Roger Strausberger said. “Not even scoring a point or making them have to side out. Just go back and serve into the net or serve out of bounds and give it right back to them.
“We just make way too many errors to be considered a good team and to beat good teams right now,” he added. “It seems like we tend to be a big-play team where we make four or five big plays, but besides that, there's not much going on.”
Naperville Central (11-5, 0-2 in the DuPage Valley Conference), which was stunned by Glenbard North last week, strung a few big plays together in the second set, getting kills from 6-foot rightside Tanner Stefani and 6-2 junior Matt Ranieri to cut a 17-11 deficit to 18-15.
But another service error, a kill by Neuqua Valley’s 5-11 outside hitter Mark Borghesi and a Carson Gentry ace ended any hopes of a comeback by the hosts.
“I felt like we didn't come out and play hard enough (against Metea Valley),” Kauling said. “We just kind of motioned through it. It kind of stunk.
“Our goal now is to win our next five games, win the Benet tournament and get the No. 1 seed in the sectional,” Kauling said. “That’s our hope. We’ll do our best.”
Kauling had 13 assists, 3 digs and 7 aces for Neuqua Valley. Six-foot-6 junior middle hitter Jeremy Cardenas added 5 kills.
Naperville Central got 7 kills from 6-4 outside hitter John Davis.
“I really was hoping that we were going to be more be ready for battle tonight, but we just did not come out to battle,” Strausberger said. “We knew Neuqua Valley is a good team. It's disappointing.”
That’s what Hattie Monson provides SPVB 16 Elite.
“It's a lot like having a tiger in your yard,” said SPVB 16 Elite coach Erik Vogt. “You can get to the house, but you're going to have to get through the tiger to get there. That’s how she plays defense. She's all over the place.”
The 5-foot-4 libero, who verbally committed to Notre Dame as a freshman, dazzled onlookers last weekend at the JVA World Challenge in Louisville, Kentucky, leading Sports Performance’s top 16s team to the 16 Open title.
“Hattie had a phenomenal weekend last week at the JVA World Challenge,” Vogt said. “A lot of times she’d be one-on-one with a blocker and have no advantage. Hattie somehow got a touch on the ball.”
Monson and SPVB 16 Elite turned back three national heavyweights in succession on the third and final day of the tournament – PNK 16 (25-15, 25-20), Munciana 16 Ninjas (18-25, 25-20, 15-11) and Asics KIVA 16 Red (25-20, 25-19) – to claim the World Challenge crown.
“We played well the first two days, but we knew we had to step up our game and take it to another level on Day Three,” Monson said. “We played as a team and poured our hearts out there.”
In the title match against KIVA 16 Red, Monson & Co. shut down Louisville recruit Anna DeBeer, who led Assumption (Louisville, Kentucky) to its 20th state championship in November.
“We knew (DeBeer) was going to get the ball every time and that we’d have to stop her,” Monson said.
There is no secret to Monson’s ascent as an elite defender. Benet coach Brad Baker said only one player has spent as much time in the gym perfecting her craft as Monson: Wisconsin libero and 2017 U.S. Junior National team member Tiffany Clark.
“Hattie spends an inordinate time in the gym,” Baker said. “Sports Performance is open all the time, so she comes in and it’s 10:30 at night and you’re closing down the place and that’s her spring break.
“She's been doing that for a really long time,” Baker added. “So it’s not a coincidence. You spend the time, put in the work and you're going to be good.”
The daughter of a volleyball coach, Monson is also one of the most coachable kids around.
“Some kids want coaching, you can coach them hard,” Baker said. “Hattie is a kid that wants coaching, that wants to be coached. You take that where you listen and you put in the time and you’re going to get good.”
But Monson isn’t satisfied with merely being good. There is always something to work on, some aspect of her game to improve.
“I want to improve my defense, reading the hitters, reading the block, setting my offense and defense,” she said.
“I just changed my serve from a four-step to a two-step,” Monson added. “This (Sunday at the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open) is my first day doing it. I'm farther back, so it takes longer to get there and it floats more. It’s harder to pass.”
Monson is always looking for an edge. That’s one of the reasons she chose Notre Dame.
“The coaches are so awesome, I love the players that are there and the family atmosphere,” she said. “And the education is obviously the best.”
Meanwhile, Monson will have to be satisfied with schooling opposing hitters.
Minus the growl.
Michio Chicago 16 National went 1-2 at Sunday’s edition of the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open, but the south siders are playing inspired, team-oriented volleyball as they approach their final chance to qualify for the USAV Junior Nationals in Detroit. Michigan.
Michio Chicago 16 National will put it all on the line when they head north to the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Northern Lights Qualifier on April 27-29.
“We have definitely stepped up our game,” said Michio setter Amy Schwem. “We’re playing as a team every single time. We’re playing for each other and not for ourselves. We’re coming into practice and busting our butts together, not as individuals.
“I think that's definitely one of the biggest obstacles to overcome … learning how to gel better together,” she added.
The Northern Lights Qualifier perennially features a field laden with battle-tested opponents – some familiar, others not.
“There'll be a lot of teams that are qualified up there ... some that we beat, some that we haven’t,” Schwem said. “But I think it doesn't really matter to us. Every match is a new game and we must be ready to give everything we have for each other and for club.
“We have to bust our butts and leave it all out on the floor,” she added.
A busted butt was not the problem for Lions 15-1 at last weekend’s 2018 Asics Show Me Qualifier in Kansas City, Missouri, where the Western Springs crew dropped its final three matches, all against teams from Southern California.
Middle hitter Gigi Barr’s dislocated patellar tendon was.
“We had a lot of players out of position,” Lions 15-1 setter Rachel Muisenga said. “The teams from California that we played ran really quick offenses and we weren’t responding like we should have. Our block was late. We struggled, and then it all kind of fell apart.”
Despite the injury, Barr expects to be back in a couple of weeks.
“It’s a bummer now, but she says she’ll be back May 1,” Muisenga said.
Lions 15-1 defeated Illini Elite 16 Cardinal 25-13, 25-17 and SPVB 15 C-Fed 25-22, 25-13 before running into SPVB 16 Elite in the Bracket A finals Sunday at the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open.
“I think we just really need to focus on our team defense and playing as a team,” Muisenga said. “A lot of times, we get down on ourselves. But when we play great defense, we’re an awesome team and it’s hard to beat us.”
For Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open standings, go to "Tourney Results."
For more results from Sunday’s Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open, go to www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(3urgdf55v5zl3z45nksedo55))/Standings.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM3MDM90&d=60257.
Protecting the zero.
15-0. It’s uncharted territory for Plainfield East.
Plainfield East ran its unbeaten streak to start the season to 15 on Thursday, defeating visiting Southwest Prairie Conference foe Oswego 25-18, 25-23. But the further away from that “0” that the Bengals get, the harder it’s becoming to protect it.
“The guys were real quiet tonight,” third-year Plainfield East coach Alex Rodriguez said. “You could see it. And part of it, too … I didn't want to have that conversation, but we might have to. It's protecting that zero. It's just protecting it, holding onto it.
“But that's not what got us here,” he added. “We’re not protecting anything. We’re going out and playing, keeping it light, keeping it hyped. But every match, the further we get away from zero, the tighter we get. It's not a good thing.”
Plainfield East (4-0 in the conference) controlled most of the first set Thursday, building a 17-12 lead on consecutive kills by 6-foot-4 outside hitter Matthew Binkus and back-to-back Oswego hitting errors. The set ended on a crosscourt kill by the Bengals’ 6-2 senior Erikas Gerulskis.
But the Panthers countered in Game 2 by racing to a 10-6 lead, and even the most casual observer could see the tension building on the Plainfield East side of the court.
“(The key to our success is) confidence and energy,” Plainfield East’s 6-4 outside hitter Trey Cowan said. “When we’re all quiet or down, we don't play well. But when we’re all hyped and having a good time, having fun, we play amazing. We click on every level.
“It’s (the unbeaten streak) always in the back of our minds,” he added. “But it’s not like it’s killing us. It’s just always in the back of our minds. We just want to win as many games as we can.”
Plainfield East set school record for wins in 2017 by going 22-10 before it was derailed in the regional semifinals by Neuqua Valley 22-25, 25-22, 25-14. Chemistry is one of the reasons that the Bengals should easily eclipse that mark in 2018.
“Four of five of us play on the same club team (Plainfield-based Club 1), and then everybody else we’re all friends with,” Cowan said. “Everybody likes each other. I think that's why we have such good chemistry.
“I’ve been on teams in the past where one or two guys were disliked,” he added. “It's like a cancer that spreads throughout the whole team.”
Plainfield East’s chemistry and confidence should be tested next weekend when the Bengals compete in the Brother Rice Smack Attack featuring such volleyball heavyweights as Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way West, Glenbard West, Marist and the host Crusaders.
“That will be a nice tournament because a lot of those teams we haven't seen and they haven't seen us,” Rodriguez said. “It's almost fresh. It's almost like they don't really know the record and we don't necessarily have that target on our back.
“Our conference teams, they all know we’re the team to beat and they want to be that team to beat us,” he added. “You have to give it to Oswego. They played really well tonight. They got a lot of stuff up ... off blocks, off tips. (Oswego coach Zach Splitt) does a nice job with that team.”
Yet despite battling Plainfield East throughout the first 40 points of the second set, the Panthers eventually succumbed under the weight of their own mistakes. Three consecutive hitting errors allowed Plainfield East to overcome a 20-18 deficit.
“Unforced errors have been our Achilles' heel for the majority of the season,” said Splitt, a former standout player at Naperville North and Quincy University. “We’re just now getting to the point late in sets where we’re more comfortable in certain situations.
“But there's still a handful of moments where we play in the moment, and it ruins us,” he added. “We forget how to execute. We’re not playing physically any more. That's what happened tonight. Down the stretch we forgot how to play the game.”
Youth contributes to some of the issues Oswego is experiencing. The Panthers start two sophomores and a host of other players with little varsity experience.
However, Splitt refuses to use inexperience as an excuse.
“They’re learning curve needs to be quick so we can get comfortable in certain situations and allow us to execute,” he said. “Right now, we focus a lot on the outcome of what we’re doing, but not how we get to that outcome. That's going to come.”
Sophomore Luke Sackmann and 6-5 opposite hitter Konlin Vicik each had 5 kills to lead Oswego (6-11, 0-3). Junior Austin Swanson and 6-3 middle hitter Allan Coyt (2 blocks) added 3 kills apiece, and sophomore setter Anthony Maltese had 15 assists.
Cowan had 8 kills and 2 blocks to pace Plainfield East, which also got 6 kills and 2 blocks from Binkus, 5 kills from Nathan Mason and 4 kills each from Gerulskis and 6-4 middle hitter Remington Norman. David Herrera had 22 assists and libero Nicholas Cozza added 8 digs.
“In the long run, we’re going to be fine,” Rodriguez said. “But it's working out through this part of it, figuring out (how to deal being unbeaten). I’m not sure how many guys on the team have actually been 15-0, and I'm figuring it out right along with them.”
By Randy Whalen
Special to Illprepvb.com
There's no holding back for the Lincoln-Way East boys volleyball team.
In a battle of two of the top teams in the state, East totally dominated in a 25-18, 25-13 victory over Brother Rice on Wednesday, April 11 in Chicago.
It was the second of a possible five meetings between the two powerhouse teams this season. They met in the third place match on Saturday, March 31 at the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic. There, East edged the Crusaders 25-18, 24-26, 25-23. This time around it was domination by the Griffins (13-1).
"We took care of business," East's 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter Ian Piet said. "We played them close the first time and we wanted to come out here and make a statement. Between high school and club. we've played against those guys a lot. We know we just have to come out and play well."
Piet (7 kills, 2 aces, 2 blocks) led the balanced attack. Mike Herlihy (7 kills, 3 blocks) and fellow senior middle hitter Luis Zavala (ace, block, kill) helped the Griffins register 11 blocks in the match. Senior rightside hitter George Kougan (3 blocks), sophomore right side hitter/setter Trevor Lewis (5 assists, 3 kills, 2 blocks) and senior outside hitter Mark Wroblewski (3 kills) helped lead East to the huge win.
Tom Phelan (4 kills) led the Crusaders (12-3). But all the kills for the senior outside hitter came at the start of the match. Senior middle hitter Dan Littleton (3 kills, block) also contributed for Brother Rice.
"Our serve receive was poor and we never got in any rhythm," Brother Rice coach Dan Dwyer said. "We hit negative 0.83 for the match. But give East credit. They put more pressure on us than any other team. We were up 7-3 (in the first set). Then Ian Piet went on that service run and we weren't the same after that."
Indeed Piet pounded some laser serves, two of which wet for aces, in a 5-0 run that put the Griffins ahead 8-7. Phelan pushed his final kill of the match to knot the set at 8-8. Then East embarked on a 6-1 spurt to take the lead for good. The Crusaders, who couldn't solve the East block, never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
"We have good hitters, but the key is our blocking," Herlihy said. "Between myself, Luis (Zavala), George (Kougan) and Mark (Wroblewski), we're working hard on the blocking. That and our serving is the big thing for us.
"This win shows a lot. We know it's hard to beat a team multiple times, but we're never holding back."
Brother Rice had leads of 2-0 and 4-2 in Game 2. With the score tied 5-5, the Griffins went on a 12-1 blitz to pull away. Piet pummeled four kills in a 7-0 stretch that started the burst.
The Crusaders did fight back to within 20-13. Then East said enough as Herlihy had a kill and a block, Lewis lambasted a kill, Herlihy hammered another kill and Wroblewski walloped an untouched ace to end it.
"We've been focusing on our serving and that gets other teams out of system," East coach Kris Fiore said. "We did a tremendous job of being aggressive and they had trouble putting the ball away.
"We wanted to have a good showing in this environment. We know this is where the sectional is being held. But afterward I also made it clear to the team that Brother Rice is a good team and we know they will be working hard to get ready for the next time."
The two teams could meet again on Saturday, April 21, in the final round of the Brother Rice Smack Attack, which will be held at St. Xavier University. The following Saturday could bring another meeting in the finals of the Lincoln-Way East Invite. Then Brother Rice hosts the sectional, which will feature many of the top teams in the state, at the end of May.
Aaron and Jacob Peterson are not unlike most identical twins.
They hang out with the same group of friends, share many of the same interests, played the same sports growing up, and even now can only be distinguished by Aaron’s long flowing locks and Jacob’s slightly heavier build.
So what’s it going to be like next year when – if all goes as planned – they find themselves going to college on opposite coasts of the United States?
“Maybe I’ll miss him a little bit,” Jacob said. “But it'll be a nice break after living with him for 18 years.”
Fremd coach Curt Pinley is in no hurry to see the Petersons leave. The 6-foot-4 seniors have been an integral part of the Vikings’ volleyball program since walking into the gym four years ago.
“They've done a great job for us,” Pinley said. “They’ve put in a lot of work and I think that work is beginning to pay off. We’re fortunate to be able to see that and to be able to be a part of that.
“They're doing a nice job leading us, and hopefully we’ll continue to see that that growth as the season goes on,” their coach added.
Yet is was almost a fluke that the Petersons play volleyball at all. Neither of their parents played – mom Jen was a cheerleader in high school and dad Paul played football – and the boys were pretty much left to their own devices when choosing their after-school activities.
It was not until one of their friends asked Jacob to try out for the team during their freshman year that the thought of playing volleyball occurred to either of them.
“Jacob said, ‘Oh yeah, sure, I'll do it,’” Aaron said. “I said, ‘I don't know, I guess I'll do it.’ I had nothing else to do so I decided just to tag along.”
Jacobs has since made a home at setter, while Aaron is listed as a middle hitter but hits and passes from just about anywhere on the court. The connection between the two is as obvious on the court as off.
"At the start, we didn't have much of a connection,” Jacob said. “But once we started practicing together, playing together every single day, I found out his tendencies and what he likes to do and what he doesn’t like to do.”
“Our connection was probably better when we started than most people because we’re twins, but it’s definitely increased over time,” Aaron said. “We’re like joint players. We play off one another.”
Aaron, who like his brother gravitated toward soccer, hockey and baseball when he was growing up, found the fast pace, the energy and the intensity of volleyball intoxicating.
“Volleyball is a pretty simplistic game,” Aaron said. “There's not a whole lot of things you can do like football when they're running hundreds of plays with tons of people, or baseball where there's tons of positions.
“Volleyball is pretty simple,” he added. “There’s six guys on one side of the court versus six guys on the other side of the court and you got to go out and beat them with simple things.”
And you don’t get much time in between to think about what went right – or wrong – on the previous play.
“You have to be ready at all times,” Jacob said. “Compared to football and their big breaks between each play, the breaks between our plays are 20 seconds max. It's nonstop movement.”
The time to discuss what went right – or wrong – usually comes later.
“We talk after every match,” Jacob said. “We talk over what we could've done better and what we did do well.”
One thing they both plan to do better will begin as soon as they hang up their Fremd jerseys for the final time.
Last year, Aaron and Jacob Peterson helped lead Palatine-based Pipeline 17 Nike to a 17th place finish at the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
This year, as members of Pipeline 18 Nike, they have their sights set much higher. They're already off to a good start, contributing to the club’s 7-2 record and fourth-place finish at the 2018 Boys Winter Volleyball Championships at McCormick Place in mid-January.
“Finishing 17th in the nation has been one of the highlights of my career,” Jacob said. “But this summer, we plan on doing even better.”
Shortly after junior nationals, however, the twins will part ways. Jacob plans to play volleyball at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, while Aaron has his heart set on the University of California San Diego.
Playing volleyball somewhere in between – although thankfully not always at the same time – will be little sister Annalise, a freshman at Fremd, who began her career two years before her brothers began their volleyball sojourn.
So where are mom and dad likely to show up when the Peterson twins take the court – one of the east coast and the other on the west?
“They didn't encourage us to play, they didn’t say anything about it, but now they're really into it and they're big fans,” Aaron said. “I'm sure they'll have no problem going coast to coast to watch volleyball.”
Now the twins just have to find somebody else to talk shop with. Or spend a lot of time on Facebook.
After Neuqua Valley pulled within a point of Glenbard West at 24-23 in the third game of the championship match Saturday at Glenbard East, the Hilltoppers’ 6-foot-1 junior outside hitter Ryan Swartz had only one thought on his mind.
“I have to hit the ball in the court,” he said.
Swartz’s blast through a pair of blockers ended a marathon three-set championship match which saw previously unbeaten Neuqua Valley squander two match points in the second game and the two teams tied 12 times in the third.
But in the end, it was Swartz who put the finishing touches on Glenbard West’s 23-25, 30-28, 25-23 victory.
“Neuqua (Valley) is a great team,” Swartz said. “It was our defense that pulled us through. (Libero) Zach Morris got every single ball up. We played crazy defense today. That’s what made the match so exciting and kept those rallies going.”
The win was the seventh in a row for three-time defending state champion Glenbard West (8-1), which dropped its second game of the season at Lincoln-Way East but has not lost since.
“We’re a young team,” said Swartz, one of 15 juniors and sophomores on the roster. “The Lincoln-Way East game really open our eyes to let us know what we needed to work on, especially our passing and serve-receive. It showed today.”
Nevertheless, No. 1-ranked Neuqua Valley (12-1) had two chances to end the match in straight sets after rallying from a 12-6 deficit in Game 2.
“We just couldn't get a kill,” Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. “It was a scenario where Jeremy (Grove) was hitting from the back row and they put a triple-team on him and put the ball back down.
“It's one of those things where we had an opportunity to close and we didn't,” the coach added. “But I told the guys, ‘Don't be down in yourselves for the way played. You played a great match. Glenbard West is a good team. The match could have easily gone the other way.'”
Despite the loss, Grove made a strong case for Player of the Year with 28 kills and 4 blocks. His kill from the back row against a triple-team got Neuqua Valley within 24-23 in the third game before Swartz’s heroics.
Six-foot-7 setter Kevin Kauling had 29 assists, 5 kills and 9 digs for the Wildcats, who also got 7 kills each from 5-11 outside hitter Mark Borghesi and 6-7 middle hitter Jeremy Cardenas. Libero Francisco Comas had 21 digs and Carson Gentry added a dozen.
Swartz led Glenbard West with 10 kills, while 6-8 middle hitter JT Ardell added 7 kills and 6 blocks. Six-foot-6 outside hitter Stone Metz added 9 kills and 3 blocks as the Hilltoppers used their height at the net to minimize their inexperience.
“We haven’t played many games,” Glenbard West coach Christine Giunta-Mayer said. “This was a great experience for my young team. Everybody's learning their role. Everybody’s doing their job.”
In a match decided by a handful of points and affected by the low ceiling and basketball backboard overhangs in the Glenbard East gymnasium, small things were probably the difference, Mendoza said.
“You have two really good teams going at it, little things like a missed serve make the difference in the match,” he said. “But I told the guys, last year we weren’t even playing for first place, second place, third or fourth, and now we’re playing in the championship match.”
Neuqua Valley advanced to the championship by edging Glenbard East 25-19, 29-27. The Rams were playing their first matches of the season with rightisde hitter Fil Kwidzinski, who injured a knee during the football season.
Glenbard East (6-6) led 24-21 in the second game against Neuqua Valley, but was unable to finish. Kauling used his 6-7 frame put away two overpasses to end the match.
“I have three fantastic defensive specialists (Peter Surlina, Jacob Bojan and Nick O’Brien) who could probably start for any other team in the state,” Glenbard East coach Marci Maier said. “I can count on one hand the serve-receive errors they had in that match. It was just poor timing.
“But you have to seal the deal at 24-21,” she added. “Obviously, you don’t want to end the match with two overpasses.”
Lake Park (9-2), which won the tournament last year by handing Glenbard West its only loss of the season, was unable to recapture that magic in the semifinals, falling 26-24, 25-15. The Lancers bounced back to finish third by beating Glenbard East 25-20, 28-26.
Robert Sampson led Lake Park with 36 assists against Glenbard East. Six-foot-7 junior middle blocker Max Ellenbecker had 8 kills, Nick Martinski and Zach Deardorff each had 7 and Jordan Haigh added 6. Nicolas Carzoli had 16 digs.
“I liked the way our guys didn’t get down on themselves when we were down (against Glenbard West),” Lake Park coach Brian Fischer said. “We battled back point-for-point. Overall, we played pretty well today.
“We just had too many missed serves and gave teams easy points,” he added. “That was kind of the name of our game today. But it’s something we can work on, something we can improve on. It was just one of those days where we couldn't find it over the net.”
Libertyville got punched in the face Friday night.
It was exactly what the doctor ordered. But the Wildcats don’t want to make it habit-forming.
Down 9-3 in the first set and 5-1 in the second, No. 10-ranked Libertyville (8-1) rallied behind Brendan Cook, Colin Hawkinson and Jack Stevens to upset No. 7 Barrington 25-23, 25-23 Friday in Libertyville.
“We got lucky tonight,” Libertyville coach Jenny Smith said. “We got punched in the face and were able to come back in both sets. We need to start off faster and avoid that completely, because eventually a team is going to come get us and we won’t be able to recover from that.”
Barrington (10-4) raced to a 9-3 lead in Game 1 and still led 17-15 when the Wildcats went on a 4-0 run aided by a pair of hitting errors by the visitors.
The Broncos narrowed the gap to 21-20 and 22-21, but Cook split a block to extend the lead to 23-21 and a backrow attack by Stevens gave the hosts set point. Barrington got within 24-23 on an ace by 6-foot-5 middle hitter Petar Lumovic, but his next serve failed to clear the net.
A kill by 6-4 junior Gabe Hartke gave Barrington a 5-1 lead in Game 2, and after Libertyville pulled even at 11-11, a dump kill by Barrington setter Evan Carroll and another ace by Lumovic allowed the Broncos to ease to a 13-11 lead.
A kill by Barrington’s 6-foot-1 junior middle hitter Ricky Gibson had the lead at 14-12, but another 4-0 run by Libertyville aided by three consecutive hitting errors by the Broncos gave the Wildcats their first lead at 16-14.
“We got stuck in a rotation in both runs,” Barrington coach Rob Ridenour said. “We practice getting out of that rotation against that serve, but it didn't happen tonight.”
A return by Barrington that rattled around the gymnasium rafters tied the second set at 21, but a kill by Cook, a double-hit violation by the Broncos and a block by Hawkinson gave Libertyville set and match point.
Back-to-back blocks by Barrington, including one by Gibson against the 6-3 Ohio State-bound Stevens, closed the gap to a point. But Stevens made good on his second chance, beating the block to give Libertyville the win.
“It didn't faze us falling behind,” Hawkinson said. “We practice being behind a lot and coming back, controlling our emotions and not letting the game get to us. So this is just what we practice. We’re really good at it. We’re getting better at the game.”
Hawkinson credited the partisan crowd and the Libertyville bench with aiding the comeback effort.
“It was a much more exciting game than we’re used to,” he said. “There was a ton of energy in the gym tonight. It really helps out having the fans and the team cheer us on together. It makes us all play our best. It was a really good game.”
Cook, a North Dakota State football recruit, led Libertyville with 8 kills. Hawkinson had 6 kills, 1 block and 6 digs, and Stevens added 6 kills, 2 blocks and 4 digs. Carter Schaffnit contributed 21 assists and a kill.
Barrington got 8 kills, 5 digs and an ace from Hartke, 6 kills, 7 digs and an ace from Michael O’Toole, 3 kills from Gibson and 21 assists from Carroll.
“It was a fun match,” Ridenour said. “To play a competitive, really high-level match like that at the mid-point of the season is a good checkmark. We’ll move on and get better.”
Jeremy Grove glanced at the Neuqua Valley bench midway through the third game following one of his 19 kills Wednesday against Marist and shook his shoulders as if to say, “Yeah, everything is going my way tonight.”
But that was the furthest thing from Grove’s mind.
“It was the other way around,” he said. “I was not playing well. I was looking to the bench for some moral support. My passing was terrible in the first set. My hitting was off. I think that was the reason we lost that game.
“Normally, about 50 percent of my balls are kills, but without that, our team was kind of at a loss,” Grove added. “But in the second set, I picked up my passing. I was making contributions. I think (Neuqua Valley libero) Francisco (Comas) picked up his game. I think it was a good comeback.”
Behind 19 kills and 2 aces from Grove, 11 kills from 6-foot-7 middle hitter Jeremy Cardenas and 8 kills from 6-3 junior middle hitter Ryan McGladdery, No. 1-ranked Neuqua Valley (8-0) rallied from a 30-28, 16-15 deficit to defeat Marist 28-30, 25-20, 25-14 in Naperville.
Grove saved his best for the second set, a game which featured eight ties and five lead changes, putting the ball away nine times and adding an ace which gave the Wildcats set point at 24-19.
“I think it's just confidence,” Grove said. “I wasn't very confident in the first set. I got blocked once or twice and I lost a little bit of my momentum. When I'm hitting the ball as hard as I can, I don't think a lot of blocks can stop it. I’m able to hit through them.”
Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza knew his ace was off his game early in the match.
“The funny thing is, he didn’t play well tonight,” Mendoza said. “He’s usually one of our best passers, but his serve-receive game was off. His hitting was off. But he turned it back up in Games 2 and 3, especially his serve-receive. That was a big difference.”
After winning Game 1 on a Neuqua Valley service error and a kill by 6-3 middle hitter Patrick Mahoney, Marist (10-3) jumped out to an 8-5 lead in the second set before Neuqua Valley tied it at 9-9 on a block by 6-7 junior setter Kevin Kauling (43 assists, 4 aces, 5 digs).
Neuqua Valley took its first lead of the second set at 10-9 on a quick hitter by Cardenas, but the RedHawks regained the lead four more times before a service error and another kill by Grove gave the hosts the lead for good at 17-16.
Marist was still within a point at 19-18 on a Mahoney kill, but Grove went back-to-back to extend the lead to 21-18 and the RedHawks never recovered.
“He’s never not ready,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said of Grove. “They find him all of the time. He hits from all over the court. Obviously, he has a great connection with that setter. They always seem to know where each other are going to be.
“The impressive thing about (Grove) is that he may get blocked or hit a ball out of bounds, but nothing changes,” the Marist coach added. “He’s still ready to go 1 million percent on the next ball. Our guys can learn from him.”
Game 3 was all Neuqua Valley. A kill by the Wildcats’ Wil Hofner gave the hosts a 13-6 lead and forced a Marist timeout, but the RedHawks could not mount a late charge and Carson Gentry ended the lengthy duel with a kill from the left side.
Mark Borghesi added 6 kills and Comas finished with 11 digs for Neuqua Valley.
Marist was led by 6-2 junior outside hitter Marty Jepsen’s 16 kills and 8 digs. Mahoney added 9 kills and 3 blocks, Ryan Rappold had 4 kills and 3 blocks, and Rocky Mayer contributed 36 assists and 9 digs.
“We had two really good practices under our belt, we felt ready, we just couldn’t sustain our mental focus,” Vidovic said. “It wasn’t physical. We just couldn't sustain the mental focus to be ready for what they're going to do.”
Vidovic called the match a good learning experience for his team.
“Especially when you felt like you had chances,” he said. “It wasn’t like they blew us out in the second game. Then you could just say, ‘OK, regroup, start from zero.’ But when you feel like you had chances, and we did in the second game.
“Then they got the momentum in the third game,” he added. “Sometimes you get it back. But they never gave it back. They stayed aggressive, and they have a couple of great servers on their side who put some pressure on us.”
Jepsen said the RedHawks will use the setback as motivation.
“We’re trying to take each game and get something out of it,” he said. “We’re playing some awesome opponents, which is what we want. We want to be up against the best. This will give us motivation in practice to keep going up and up.”
Poised and aggressive.
New Trier put its 0-2 start in the rearview mirror Tuesday at Stevenson. The Trevians were firing on all cylinders while cruising to a 25-13, 25-21 victory over the previously unbeaten and No. 9-ranked Patriots.
It was beautiful music to New Trier coach Sue Ellen Haak’s ears.
“0-2 is a tough way to start the season,” Haak said of her team’s losses to Libertyville and Lincoln-Way East. “But we like to do that (schedule difficult openers). I was proud of our team tonight. They played poised. They stayed aggressive the whole time.
“We really had no trouble serving, passing, which kept us in the game even when they (Stevenson) turned it on in the second set,” she added. “It was a good start. Poised and aggressive.”
The Trevians had more difficulty facing their classmates at school Monday than they did on the court Tuesday.
“Everybody was asking, ‘How’s the season going?’” New Trier’s 6-foot-6 middle hitter James Snyder said. “We knew we played some really good teams. We have a bunch of young guys. We only have six returners this year. There are 10 new guys on the team.
“We knew it was going to take a while to mesh,” he added. “We got one day of practice and we were here. We weren't sure what we were going to get, but we’re looking real good. That was a real fun game.”
Not so much fun for Stevenson (6-1), which fell behind 18-6 in Game 1.
“I put a lot of guys on center stage,” Stevenson coach Eric Goolish said. “They had friends here. The media was here. They didn’t know how to deal with it. Stage fright? Maybe a little bit. But it’s good for them in the long run. We want to experience these things.
“We had a great start, almost too good of a start,” he added. “6-0. We only lost one set. We felt like we were in control of every match we played. No stress at all. We got a lot of stress today. They didn’t know how to deal with it.”
The Patriots gave their fans a lot more to cheer about in Game 2, jumping out to leads of 4-1 and 7-4 before the Trevians made their move. New Trier tied the game at 12-12, then went on an 8-2 run before a kill from Stevenson's 6-3 sophomore outside hitter Gavin Meng temporarily stopped the bleeding.
But that was as good as it got for the Patriots. Snyder’s slam at 24-21 slammed the door on the set and the match.
“I think they (Stevenson) came out stronger in the second set,” New Trier’s Loyola-bound 6-6 middle hitter Joe D’Attomo said. “I think every team will after losing the first set. But we started banging in the second. It was good to see the young guys keep their composure.”
Poised and aggressive.
Snyder (2 blocks), 6-5 sophomore Peter Brown and 6-4 junior Jay Saravis each had 5 kills for New Trier. D’Attomo added 4 kills and 6-3 junior setter Ben Wiegand had 21 assists and 2 blocks.
Wiegand, who was on the junior varsity last year, continues to impress his coach.
“Lefty sensation,” Haak said. “He’s a total thinker. He wants to do his best and he works his tail off. What people don't realize is about him is that he gets into the game and he switches personalities. He runs the court in a really calm manner. We've been really impressed with him so far.”
Stevenson got 8 kills from Meng, 4 kills each from 6-5 middle blocker Matt Cliffer and 6-5 outside hitter Leo Chen, and 10 assists each from Haddon Kay and junior Will Sorenson.
“Better now than championship of tournaments or state playoffs,” Goolish said. “We recovered well in the second game, but even the sophomore (Meng) walking away said he was rattled in the first set.
“That can happen,” the coach added. “But he played really well in the second set … ball control, tooling off the block, rolling the ball.”