Nik Antonijevic flashed a smile as large as he is tall after the 6-foot-8 senior and his Stevenson volleyball teammates played an experienced New Trier squad tough.
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Antonijevic recently committed to play volleyball for Pepperdine University in sunny Malibu, Calif.
"I'm pretty happy right now," Antonijevic said.
He was talking about his college choice, but he was equally thrilled with the Patriots' effort in their season opener Tuesday night, despite visiting New Trier rallying for a 20-25, 25-14, 27-25 win.
"To me, it actually didn't really feel like a loss," said Antonijevic, who had 5 kills, 3 solo blocks and 12 digs, including a pancake. "We have a pretty young team, and this New Trier team is pretty stacked. For us to go to three, I was really amazed. It felt good."
New Trier (1-0) features nearly its entire starting lineup from a year ago. The Trevians were led by Alex Cook's 11 kills, Andy Gates' 10 and Bennett Wakenight's nine and 3 blocks. Danny Ullman recorded 17 digs, and three-year varsity setter Eric Kerr dished 21 assists.
Stevenson served for the win, up 25-24 in the final set, but Wakenight's vicious kill knotted the score. The 6-5 senior then served an ace, before 6-4 senior Eric Smith notched a block to give the visitors the win.
"We have a lot of confidence," New Trier coach Sue Ellen Haak said. "We have a lot of experience, so our big strength is consistency because of that. We typically are not going to make a lot of errors."
Funny, in the first set, the Trevians made a lot of miscues. Stevenson recorded points off unforced errors 17 times to pull out the win, as New Trier continually either hit or served long.
"We felt like we gave them that win that first game," Haak said. "In a way, that still gave us confidence because we knew we were controlling the game."
The hitting of Wakenight and Cook sparked New Trier to an 8-2 lead in the second set. Stevenson got within 17-13, but six straight points on 5 kills and a Gates block all but put the Patriots away.
The final set was close throughout, with one sequence including a desperate, back-to-the-net punch from the back row by Gates that landed untouched in Stevenson's back row for a kill.
Stevenson eventually wiped out deficits of 17-13, 22-18 and 24-21, only to fall short.
"It's a process with these guys," Patriots coach Tim Crow said. "The sky's the limit. We're beginning to see huge improvement. We just have a few guys playing all the way around that never have really done that before. They're just getting their feet wet with that."
Junior Jason Fleischman and senior veteran Danny Gescheidle each had 6 kills for Stevenson. Junior Mitch Robinson was a factor at the net with 2 kills, 2 solo blocks and 2 assisted blocks, while senior Darien Wu (team-best 15 digs) was diving on the floor all night to keep balls alive. Senior Zachary Kravits was 60-of-60 setting with 24 assists.
"I think we have some nice pieces," Crow said. "We were able to rely on our veterans from last year to get us through a little bit tonight just because we're not where we need to be tempo-wise."
Haak was just thrilled to escape Stevenson with, for a change, a win.
"We have notoriously have played very poorly here," New Trier's coach said. "So it was nice to come out on a visiting court -- first match of the season -- and fight back."