If D.A. Nichols were to coin a theme for his Wheaton Academy team it might read "ahead of schedule."
And that's just fine with him.
The Warriors, with just one senior, are 23-7 with three weeks left in the regular season. Wheaton Academy's win total is its most since the 2007 team went 25-12 and won the school's last volleyball regional.
"I thought the potential was there, but I didn't think it would come this early," said Nichols, whose teams also won 34 and 30 matches, respectively, in 2005 and 2006. "We've done really well."
A turning point might have been at the Rockford Jefferson tournament Sept. 8. Nichols was already considering a lineup change, but when a middle was injured he moved Brianna Tellschow from right-side to middle. The Warriors won that tournament. The rest was history.
"Kind of dumb luck," Nichols said, "but it worked out."
Wheaton Academy has leaned heavily on its two outsides, Sydney Vischer and Bianca Cifaldi. Kent State recruit Cifaldi, the Warriors' only senior, had 87 kills over 12 sets last weekend at a tournament at IMSA.
The Warriors did get a bad break there, though. Vischer went down with what has been diagnosed as a Grade 3 sprained ankle, which likely shelves her for the season. In her absence sophomore Samantha Krill will move from right side. Nichols did note that his team played well without Vischer earlier in the year when she missed time with illness and a concussion.
"It's going to be different for us," he said. "Matches that we won handily before are going to be tough now. But I think we'll rally together."
Metea gets watershed win:
Janine Wange, school psychologist at Metea Valley, doesn't need her mental know-how to realize how important last Tuesday's win over Waubonsie Valley was to her volleyball team.
Metea's 25-18, 27-25 was its first win over its District 204 rival in volleyball.
"It's a huge deal for them," Wange said. "A lot of them had older sisters and siblings that went to Waubonsie, so it was kind of their home school before Metea. The win means a lot."
Metea rallied from a 19-12 deficit in the second set. Lexie Lobdell had 15 kills, 5 of them down the stretch of the second set. Middle Kaylyn Torain had 6 kills and 3 blocks, including 3 kills and a block during the big rally.
"We went to Lexie a lot and she delivered," Wange said. "Kaylyn's hitting percentage was like .550. The balls she did get she converted into kills and our serving was tough. Kaylyn all season has been really consistent."
The excitement of the win was tempered somewhat the next day. Standout libero Alyssa Ensminger took an inadvertent elbow to the head during practice drills and suffered a concussion. She missed Thursday's match against Downers Grove North, a two-set loss, but Wange hopes Ensminger gets cleared by the doctors the next couple days.
Wange is looking for that same level of intensity shown against Waubonsie to carry over down the stretch. A conference title, and perhaps a regional, could be in the offing in Metea's third varsity season.
"They've shown that they can beat good teams," Wange said. "If they come ready to play we're pretty good."
Big showdown in DVC:
If Naperville Central is to win at least a share of the DuPage Valley Conference title, count Tuesday night's match with West Aurora a must win.
West Aurora (18-1, 8-0), leading the Redhawks (15-4, 7-1) by a match and Naperville North by two with six left, comes calling to Naperville. The Blackhawks beat the Redhawks 25-22, 25-21 in a Sept. 6 meeting in Aurora. Naperville Central should be much more ready for this one, though. Going into that first match the Redhawks had played just two matches; West Aurora at the time was 11-1.
"The game was moving faster than what we were prepared for because we hadn't played matches at that speed," Naperville Central coach Brie Isaacson said. "We grew as a team that weekend at the Effingham Tournament. We're more prepared now. We're looking forward to this match because it's a good gauge for where we are."
Isaacson also is aware that her Redhawks and West Aurora could very well meet a third time later this month. The two teams will likely be seeded No. 2 and No. 3 behind Benet when sectional pairings are determined this week.
The Redhawks also are at full strength again. Senior middle Sammy Condon, who missed time recently with a mild concussion, has been cleared to play and practiced last week. Condon and fellow middle Nikki Connors are a big edge the Redhawks have against other teams.
"When you have a team like we have, having one person gone no matter who you are playing is difficult," Isaacson said. "Not having her there sets everything off. Super excited to have her back."
Benet aims to defend Mizuno Cup crown:
A year ago the Mizuno Cup proved the blastoff point for Benet on a run that ended in a state title.
The Redwings can only hope history repeats itself.
Benet (17-2) is the No. 1 seed at this weekend's Mizuno Cup tournament at Aurora's Great Lakes Center. Joliet Catholic (17-2), which Benet coincidentally plays Thursday in Joliet, is No. 2, with Hinsdale South (14-4) No. 3 and Naperville Central No. 4. Naperville North drew the seventh seed in the 24-team tournament.
Last year Benet dominated at Mizuno, not dropping a single set in winning the event. The tournament came on the heels of a loss to Marist and began a 20-0 season-ending stretch for the Redwings.
"We had changed our lineup for that tournament, and they just clicked. We dominated at that tournament and continued to dominate," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "We hope every year that everything we put in starts to click because the playoffs are just the corner."
Benet had its 36-match win streak snapped at Marian Catholic a week ago, then dropped a three-setter at Marist two nights later. The Redwings got a much-needed addition with the return from a bruised kidney of back-row specialist Brittany Kmieciak against Batavia, a match Benet won.
"Brittany brings a certain energy to the floor, and she is a senior. That experience is hard to replace," Baker said. "We hope that putting Brittany back in we'll get back to feeling how we were when we were 16-0."
Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96.