A few Neuqua Valley players have jumped into big roles at the varsity level, and the Wildcats are now surprising many volleyball fans by just how well they play as a team.
Waubonsie Valley, meanwhile, has been plugging along without two of its talented, most experienced players who are out with injuries. Having said that, Neuqua's 25-14, 25-16 victory didn't really surprise most on hand in Naperville on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats (14-3, 1-0 UEC River) were sharp and didn't make many mistakes, while Waubonsie Valley struggled with serve-receive errors, missed serves and therefore never really mounted much of a consistent offensive attack.
"We passed the ball well and we played good defense," Wildcats coach Erich Mendoza said. "We were the definition of playing as a team. For the most part we've played very, very consistent."
Waubonsie Valley (7-11, 0-1) led Game 1 4-3 following a big block from Jon Pyne, but the hosts rattled off a 9-1 charge en route to claiming the opener 25-14. The game's final two points came on an ace by James Marton and a winning tip shot from Alex Coyne.
Coyne had 12 assists Tuesday to go along with a pair of kills and a pair of blocks, while teammate Aaron Lauth added 7 assists in the match.
Coyne is one of a number of players who either played sparingly on the varsity last spring or worked on their game at the JV level. This year the new varsity members are performing at a high level, and expectations have increased along the way.
"Coming into the season we weren't ranked at all. Now we're ranked eighth in the state," Coyne said. "We had no returning seniors from last year, but we've been at Neuqua waiting our turn. We've performed real well this season."
For the Warriors, star setter Luke Furman is out for the year with an injury, while top hitter Mike Simmons also may not return this spring. They were missed dearly on Tuesday, especially in the second game when the Wildcats took advantage of a number of Warriors errors to jump ahead 10-3 on the way to a 25-16 triumph that completed the sweep.
"When you have the number of guys we have out and the younger guys behind them playing a team of this caliber, you've got to be mentally focused," Waubonsie Valley coach Al Lagger said. "But we didn't come out mentally prepared and you could see it during warmups."
Callahan Rafferty led a balanced Wildcats attack with 4 kills, with Marton adding 3. Pyne paced the Warriors with 3 kills.