Blake Burton's breakout volleyball season has been better than all right for Mundelein.
On Friday night, the righty left it all on the court with a left-handed kill.
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Late in the second set of the Mustangs' 25-8, 25-18 win over host Grant, the 6-foot-5 Burton soared to pound a kill and improvised, using his left hand to finish an attack.
"It was tight," Burton said of the set, "so I just hit it lefty. I got most of it. I practice it in the gym, as well."
"We practice hitting with our opposite hand probably every other practice," Mundelein coach George Dressen Jr. said after his red-hot Mustangs improved to 13-9 and 2-2 in the North Suburban Conference. "So they're prepared if that circumstance comes along."
After playing only front row and serving last season, Burton is playing all the way around this season. Dressen switched the senior from middle blocker to outside hitter, and Burton has thrived.
He slammed a match-best 8 kills on 16-of-18 hitting against Grant (1-20, 0-4) and also served an ace.
"He's doing extremely well for us," Dressen said.
Burton's total number of left-handed kills this season?
"I think that might have been the first one," Burton said, smiling.
Mundelein played without five players, including starting 5-1 setter Victor Magana (college visit), sophomore middle/outside John Lentz (shoulder), right side Samuel Nelson (ill), defensive specialist Eugene Lee (ill) and starting defensive specialist Owen McCarthy (ill). With Magana out, senior Jose Orozco ran the offense, setting 33 of 34 with 13 assists, in addition to notching a pair of kills.
It was Mundelein's second win this season over Grant, which is playing its inaugural season as an IHSA sport after having club status last year.
"They're pretty good," Burton said. "They're always very competitive and very scrappy. Good passing team, good serve-receive."
Grant senior outside hitter Ron Torres showed off a wicked jump serve, recording 1 ace, and displayed hustle, too, knocking over three chairs while chasing a ball in the opening set.
Torres and 6-4 Tom Blanchette pounded 3 and 2 kills, respectively, for the Bulldogs. Setters Corey SaLee (23 of 27) and Tony Catinella (15 of 16) -- who helped belt out the national anthem -- combined for 6 assists. Blanchette added 8 digs and 2 blocks, while junior Eduardo Castillo also had 8 digs.
"The guys show up with a good attitude, and they try their hardest every day," said Grant coach Jon Schaap, who found out Friday that libero Victor Janney will miss the rest of the season with a broken finger.
"When practice ends, most of the time, they want to keep going. They want to practice for 4-5 hours. Which is great. I've coached basketball before, I've coached girls, and I've never had a group like that. It's great. We're just trying to catch up right now. We're riding that learning curve."
The Bulldogs' schedule hasn't helped them. Stevenson, Vernon Hills and Mundelein are perennial powers in the NSC, and on weekends, Grant has picked up valuable experience at the cost of wins playing in competitive tournaments at schools such as Buffalo Grove and Warren.
"The (NSC) groups that we're trying to catch up with are elite groups," Schaap said. "We've scheduled pretty hard, too."
Joey Tylka added 4 kills, and Jeremy Doll had 2 kills and 2 blocks for Mundelein, which has won six in a row. Today is the first Saturday the Mustangs have had off all season, and Dressen is giving his players the entire day off.
"I said if they played well (against Grant) that we'd look at giving them Saturday off, and they played well," Dressen said. "We were able to get everybody out there on the floor, and that was the important thing."
After Mundelein dominated the opening set, Grant built a 4-1 lead in the second set on a kill by Blanchette. The Bulldogs went up 15-14 when Torres powered a kill through a pair of blockers, but a Tylka kill gave the momentum back to Mundelein, and the Mustangs scored 11 of the last 14 points.
"They're a young program, but they play with a lot of heart," Dressen said of the Bulldogs. "They have great coaches. I look forward to their years to come. I think they're going to be building momentum as they go."