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Article updated: 9/19/2012 11:19 PM

Improving Montini nearly knocks off Downers South

By Joshua Welge

Montini coach Steve Dowjotas is brimming with enthusiasm about the future of his volleyball program.

In the immediate, though, he just wants to get back on the practice court.

Minus its kill leader Monica Loftus and setter Kyle Hodyl with injuries, Montini nearly pulled off a huge third-set rally on Wednesday at Downers Grove South before succumbing to the host Mustangs 25-17, 20-25, 26-24.

The Broncos (12-6) lost sophomore outside Loftus to a rolled ankle at the Asics Preview at Mother McAuley over the weekend. Hodyl, their only senior, suffered a stress fracture in her back that will sideline her 4-6 weeks. Freshman Gina Cappetta was called up to varsity this week to set.

"We've only had one practice with this lineup," Dowjotas said. "Just working it in for a couple days will be nice. Fortunately, we're off until Monday."

Even without Loftus and Hodyl, Montini went 2-3 at the tough Asics Preview, taking Lyons Township, Lincoln-Way East and Marian Catholic to three sets. Dowjotas has beefed up his improving program's schedule, adding a date with Downers Grove South for the first time.

The Broncos trailed 20-11 and 24-18 in the third set but came all the way back to tie it at 24-24. Junior middle Joyce Balash had 2 kills and a block and sophomore outside Natalie Lopez an ace during that stretch.

"Confidence is our biggest thing," Dowjotas said. "Coming back from 9 points down in the third set shows that they can do it. It was a good match."

Montini tied it 24-24 on a Downers Grove South hitting error after a long rally, but a kill gave the Mustangs back serve. At match point Mustangs senior Kristy LaRue put down her 11th kill. Mustangs middle Kirsten Zemke also had 11 kills and 2 blocks and Danielle Conrad, the team's third senior starter, had 5 kills, 17 assists, 7 digs and 5 aces.

"It got a little rough there, but we all trust each other," Zemke said. "We made it a dramatic finish for sure."

A broken foot cost LaRue all of last season, and she'll probably need surgery again after this season. You wouldn't know it by her play Wednesday.

"Kristy's come back from her injury nicely," Mustangs coach Trisha Kurth said. "She's swinging away and she's not afraid."

Downers Grove South (8-5) finds itself in the middle of a tough stretch. The Mustangs went 3-2 at the Wheaton Classic over the weekend, dropped a conference match to Hinsdale South Tuesday and is at the Rich East Invite this weekend. Then there's the Asics Challenge the following weekend.

"We've started off the season a little slow, but I'm hoping it's going to end big," Kurth said. "We definitely have the talent."

Zemke had 6 kills and a block in a first set Downers Grove South never trailed in, then aced three straight serves early in the third to give the Mustangs momentum. Balash, a 6-foot-1 middle, came alive in the second set with 3 kills.

Balash had 9 kills, Lopez 5 kills and libero Bridget Lucas 13 digs for the Broncos, who are only two wins shy of matching last year's season total. This despite starting a pair of sophomores and a bunch of juniors.

"Good promise going forward. Next year, look out," Dowjotas said. "I'm excited for the rest of this season. The fact that our leaders have been up on varsity and are only juniors, we're taking a huge step. Regionals, we'll see where we're at, but I'd be real nervous to play us."

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