St. Viator assistant boys volleyball coach Jim Neill couldn't believe it was happening again.
Then again, maybe he could.
In what's become an an all-too-familiar pattern this season, the Lions were on the doorstep of a victory in both Game 2 and 3 but watched Marian Catholic rally from way back both times in a 16-25, 25-22, 26-24 Spartans victory.
The Lions fell to 0-2 in East Suburban Catholic Conference play, 1-11 overall.
"Unfortunately, I had a feeling this was going to happen," said Neill, who helmed the team with head coach Chris Boylan overseas on a business trip. "That's been our M.O. this season - we hit 20 points, but then we can't close it out."
"It's happened against Barrington, against Elk Grove, in tournament play - it seems like we can battle back, catch up and get ahead, but we have a hard time finishing."
The loss overshadowed some tremendous individual performances. Six-foot-3 Lions senior middle hitter Richard McLoughlin hammered 14 kills, junior Patrick Ryan finished 93-of-97 with 29 assists from his setter position and junior outside hitter David Kingsley was 16-for-20 on attack with 6 kills and had 18 digs.
"We're a young team," said junior Kevin Pleli, who was a force from the service line with 5 aces. "We have to learn how to finish games after we get a big lead."
Pleli's attack on serve broke open a close game one as the Lions took the match lead, then 3 straight kills from the junior helped Viator open up a late 6 point lead in Game 2.
But a late letdown helped Marian Catholic tie the match, and the Spartans did it again in Game 3.
Marian was down by 5 points but forged a 24-all tie, then outside hitter William Craft made the play of the game with a well-placed spike to give the Spartans the lead.
A kill attempt to extend the game by Lions on the next point went wide to give Marian the win.
Lions junior Jon Mayyou finished with 5 kills while Eric Schulget, one of only two seniors on the youthful St. Viator squad, was a steady force on defense with 14 digs.
"It's frustrating," said Schulget. "We get ahead by 5 or 6 points and think we've go the win, then we can't close it out. But we've got a lot of young guys on the team this season, and this will be a learning experience for them - it'll help them get ready (for the rest of the season.)"
"We've just got to get after it in practice," added Pleli, "keep working hard, and stay focused."