To get a spot on the Cal-Irvine men's volleyball team next year, Mundelein senior Blake Burton will have to be ready from the word "go."
He might not get the kind of "warm-up time" he got on Wednesday in leading the Mustangs to a 19-25, 25-21, 25-20 come-from-behind North Suburban Conference victory over host Lake Zurich.
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Irvine won the NCAA Division I national championship last week and is consistently one of the best teams in the country.
Tryouts next school year will likely be competitive, so it will be important for Burton to make a good first impression, right out of the box.
"Hopefully, I'll be playing there," said Burton, who will be majoring in engineering at Irvine. "I'll walk on and we'll see what happens."
What happened at Lake Zurich is that Burton left a good impression in the way he finished, but it took him some time to get there. Ditto for all the Mustangs.
They were somewhat sluggish in their first game and had to scratch and claw to find their way back into the match. It's a scenario that has played out countless times this season for Mundelein, which improves to 19-12 on the season and 7-4 in conference play.
On Tuesday, for instance, the Mustangs lost a tough 3-game match to league-leader Stevenson.
"We're in love with game threes, I guess. Almost all of our matches go to a game three," Burton said. "We have to work on finishing in two.
"We just come out slow and then we usually warm up. I know I started off slow today, but then I warmed up and got more comfortable and I was ready."
Burton finished with a team-high 16 kills against Lake Zurich, and he tied Joey Tylka with a team-high 5 blocks.
"Last night, we kind of ran out of steam against Stevenson at the end," Mundelein coach George Dressen, Jr. said. "Tonight it was just the reverse. We kind of gained some steam and momentum toward the end of the third game.
"We've been playing more and more three-game matches and that puts you on the edge a little bit, but it also tests the team's strength and abilities on the court and thankfully tonight our veterans were able to help with composure and help us get back into the match."
The calm-and-cool Mustangs were never down in the third game and finished off many points down the stretch with big blocks from Burton, Tylka and Jeremy Doll.
Sophomore hitter John Lentz also came up with some big offensive plays. He finished with 7 kills. Meanwhile, senior setter Victor Magana rolled up 32 assists for Mundelein.
Lake Zurich, which drops to 14-19 overall and 3-8 in the North Suburban, also had good balance as four players had 6 kills or more.
Michael Savio led the Bears with 10 kills while sophomore Brent Sweetwood, Matt Carmody and Nate Amos finished with 8, 7 and 6 kills respectively.
"We have some leaders and some guys who have played really well for us this year," Lake Zurich coach Lesly Ravenscraft said. "But we're still a really young and inexperienced team. We have no seniors on our roster and we don't have a lot of club players either. Our program is still only five years old, so we're still learning and growing.
"We just keep talking with the boys about what we need to do and we just have to be able to finish. We start out well and then just can't keep it going. It's been a thing for us all year. It's been how our season has been going. We're learning to be scrappy. We just have to work on our confidence."