Xu, Stevenson serve a loss to Vernon Hills
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Right in set three, in what have been the match of the season in boys volleyball, it was like someone blew out a candle.
Two top teams, Stevenson and Vernon Hills, left in all on the floor for two and a half sets on Tuesday night at Stevenson.
And then Patriots senior Kevin Xu went into serve for the Pats, who were nursing a 13-12 lead.
When Xu was done serving, this superior match was about over.
There was the blocking of Aaron Zalewski and Eric Chang. And then kills from Brad Tiller and and Brett Lerner.
Stevenson, the top seed in the upcoming Antioch sectional, went three sets to beat Vernon Hills 27-25, 20-25, 25-17.
VH's defeat also signified that there is a new standout at Vernon Hills named Lem Turner.
Both clubs entered the match with 7-0 marks in the North Suburban Conference. And the two teams played toe-to-toe in set one.
Stevenson (27-4) opened a 16-13 lead. However, on a sensational block from Turner (10 kills, 7 blocks), the Cougars cut into the margin.
"I felt pumped,'' Turner said. "It was my coming out party to prove that I'm just not a sophomore."
It was touch and go from there. Consecutive blocks from Zalewski (10 kills) kept the Cougars (21-5) at bay.
Zalewski was quick to credit the Cougars.
"Vernon Hills is a very solid team,'' Zalewski said. "And he (Turner) is going to be really good in two years."
Whatever momentum the Pats got from the first set victory, it dissipated in the second set. The Cougars never trailed in set two. Turner was especially dangerous in this set hitting out of the middle.
"He's learning,'' said Vernon Hills coach Chris Curry. "He's growing and taking his lessons and it's pretty easy to notice."
Max Spiglanin (13 kills) had a key hit as the Cougars forced set three.
"It was a pretty good match,'' Curry said. "But we had too many service errors. We had a nice rotation in set two."
And then the decisive third set started just like the other two sets. There was no warning this set would get out of hand.
"I think we were exposed in a few areas,'' said Stevenson coach Tim Crow.
"But once we got those six or seven service points, Vernon Hills mentally shut down. Our guys did a much better job blocking in that rotation."
As good as Spiglanin and Turner are at hitting the volleyball hard, Stevenson has one of those ball-pounders on their side of the net. He's 6-foot-4 senior Brad Tiller. He chipped in a game-high 14 kills.
"This was a team win,'' Tiller said. "Everyone stepped up.''
Tiller volunteered the names of Lerner, Zalewski and Chang as Pats who helped in this victory.
"I try to be the vocal leader of this team,'' Tiller said. "I try and stay mentally tough. We have a lot of returning people this year and a bunch of us played at Adversity."
Tiller fully expects to see the Cougars come the postseason.
Turner had a block and a kill late in set three. In the meantime, the Pats put this one away.
"We had that one run in the third set,'' Zalewski said. "It was like 7 or 8 plays. We did a good job of blocking. We really shut the net down."
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