A good idea is always close at hand with this group.
The Stevenson volleyball team is full of bright thinkers.
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There are multiple future Ivy Leaguers on the roster, headed for schools such as Princeton and Cornell. MIT and Northwestern are also destinations for a couple of Patriots.
This year, there are 59 advanced placement classes being taken between the team's 15 players.
The overall team grade point average? A mind-blowing 4.3.
So, it's no wonder that the Patriots, closing in on another 30-win season after a scrappy 25-17, 22-25, 25-19 North Suburban Conference win at Warren on Wednesday, came up with the biggest secret to their success all on their own.
"We focus on the mental preparation because that's really what separates the elite teams from the average teams," Stevenson setter Jonah May said. "We have an in-depth talk before matches, just the players, no coaches. We talk about things we worked on in practice, we talk about the other team and what our goals for the match are. We used to do that just real quick right before a match. Now we do it at least an hour before to make sure we have plenty of time to get mentally prepared for the match.
"The players started that this year and it's been really helpful."
The Patriots certainly got their minds right against Warren, which pushed harder than most opponents do. May had to reel off seven straight service points in a tight third game to finally put Stevenson in control, 20-10.
Now 28-4 overall and a sparking 9-0 in the North Suburban Conference, Stevenson is in the driver's seat to come away with a prize that has been elusive in recent years.
"We want to be the outright conference champions," said May, who will be playing at Princeton next season. "I've been on the varsity for three years now and the last two years, we've had to share it with other teams. We've never been the outright winner, and we really want that. So, it's definitely sweet for us to get this win."
Also sweet was Stevenson's grueling win over Vernon Hills on Tuesday. Vernon Hills was the only other unbeaten team in the North Suburban and the team that forced Stevenson into a co-championship last season.
Two years ago, the Patriots shared with Vernon Hills and Warren.
"We know about Stevenson and how good they are," Warren coach Yun Chen said. "They're so tough and always very consistent with everything from offense to defense to serving."
The Patriots had good balance against Warren (20-8, 7-3 NSC). Brad Tiller, who will be going to Cornell, tied MIT-bound Aaron Zalewski with a team-high 6 kills apiece. Kevin Xu, who will be going to Northwestern, led the way with 25 digs.
May did a little bit of everything, finishing with 5 kills to go along with a team-high 21 assists and 3 blocks.
"He carried us tonight," Stevenson coach Tim Crow said of May. "He's a remarkable setter and he made some huge plays for us. He was more aggressive on offense than he normally is, which we needed tonight.
"This certainly wasn't our best game as a team, but we have a lot of experience and maturity and the guys don't get rattled. They don't panic when things are going well."
Warren did its best to make Stevenson as uncomfortable as possible.
The Blue Devils cut into a 2-point deficit in the second game with a big rally that began with a kill from Bryant Holland. Holland then served four straight points to give Warren a 22-19 lead. Matt Massong also chipped in with some big kills and blocks as Warren pulled out the win to force a third game.
"You want a fun, close game like this," Massong said. "I was ecstatic in that second game. We didn't start out too hot in the first game, but we came out in the second game and we were tough and we fought back and that felt like walking on Cloud 9."
Holland led Warren with a game-high 13 kills while setter Arvind Kouta had 27 assists. Freshman Zach Schultz had a team-high 4 blocks.