Caleigh Ryan is blown away by what her Glenbard West volleyball team has accomplished.
First conference title since 1984? To put that in perspective, in the fall of '84 Ryan's dad Kelly was a freshman quarterback at Yale.
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"It's ridiculous to comprehend," said the Hilltoppers senior setter. "It feels so awesome to be associated with those people that came before us, because Glenbard West has had such a drought in volleyball."
The drought is over, the top-ranked and unbeaten Hilltoppers clinching the outright championship of the West Suburban Silver by virtue of a 25-21, 25-17 win at Downers Grove North on Tuesday.
Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea got a little misty-eyed talking about the seniors responsible for the renaissance in Hilltoppers volleyball.
"I'm really proud of them. This is a big deal to our kids," Mastandrea said, ticking off the names of seniors Ryan, Amanda Perry, Julia Waggoner, Megan Wagner, Nicole Schlesser and Madeleine Payne. "They believed that we could do this."
Glenbard West (28-0, 6-0) had already clinched a share of the title, but was intent on running the table. The magnitude of the stakes, and an unbeaten record this late in the season, may have affected the girls' game early.
The two teams exchanged the lead seven times with 15 ties in a nip-and-tuck first set, neither team leading by more than a point until Glenbard West surged ahead late.
Downers Grove North took its last lead at 18-17, but a Perry kill gave Glenbard West back serve and Ryan delivered an ace. Katherine Mahlke's kill, one of her 9 for the Trojans, knotted it at 21-21 before two Downers Grove North errors gave Glenbard West the lead for good. A Wagner kill got Glenbard West to set point, and it ended on an ace.
"We played a little uptight today," Mastandrea said, "a little more than normal. Caleigh's poise helped. Today we were a little slow and methodical. That's not our style."
Downers Grove North (12-15, 3-2) was its worst enemy. The Trojans gave Glenbard West 26 points off errors, 9 of them on missed serves.
"The opportunity was there," Trojans coach Mark Wasik said. "I just didn't see people go take it. We're beating ourselves."
Ryan's ace highlighted a 4-0 Hilltoppers start to the second set, and that lead was never threatened. Ryan had 12 assists, 7 digs and also cleverly dropped in 3 kills, including a pretty dump shot at match point.
"It was really important for us to just continue our winning streak," Ryan said. "This is a team of people who don't like to lose and will do anything to get the win."
Perry had 5 kills, Wagner 4 and Caroline Jenkins 4 kills, Payne 6 digs and Meg DeMaar 5 for Glenbard West, whose 28-0 record will be put to the test this weekend. The Hilltoppers are the fifth seed in Glenbard East's Autumnfest tournament that includes Benet, Mother McAuley, Joliet Catholic, West Aurora and Naperville Central.
"We want this opportunity to play the really good and acclaimed teams, teams we haven't seen lately," Ryan said. "The entire team is pumped up to have the chance to prove ourselves."
Hannah Rogoz had 8 kills and Carolyn Nojiri 12 digs for Downers Grove North.