There's no mystery to the Downers Grove South volleyball team's success this year. The Mustangs are just playing their game and not worrying about the other side of the net.
On Tuesday the Mustangs (27-10) rebounded from a first-set loss and defeated Neuqua Valley 24-26, 25-21, 25-22 to win the Proviso West sectional and move on to the Elite Eight at the state tournament Friday at Hoffman Estates.
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"The coach told us tonight to just stay calm and don't play their game," said the Mustangs' Nick Timreck, who led a diverse Downers Grove South attack with 9 kills, 3 blocks and 3 aces. "That's what we've done the entire postseason. We just played our game."
"This is a terrific bunch of kids," said Mustangs coach Kurt Steuer. "They're achieving the goals they set for themselves in the off-season when the seniors decided they wanted to go to state. We knew we had the talent level to do that."
The trip to state didn't look promising late in the first set when the Wildcats (33-6), the No. 2 seed, led 23-18, before the No. 5-seeded Mustangs fought back to tie it at 24-24 before kills by James Marton and Jeremy Royko closed it out.
The second set was incredibly close at the beginning. It was tied at every one of the first eight points, and the Mustangs got a little separation, building a 16-11 and held on to force a third set.
"We got them a little out of their system with our serving," Timreck said. "We set up our defense behind our block and got the kills. Our blocking and our defense were strong tonight."
Early in the third set, the teams were even at 9-9 when a run of Wildcat errors helped the Mustangs build an 18-13 lead.
The Wildcats then staged a mini-comeback and got to within 22-21 when kills by Mike Schmitt and Austin Adonk closed it out and sent the Mustangs to state.
"This is the greatest feeling in the world," Timreck said. "I can't describe it."
"In the first set we just got a feel for things," Steuer said. "Then we made some adjustments here and there and it all came together. We served tough, hit the corners and worked to set up our defense."
John Hanek had 9 kills for the Mustangs, and Schmitt finished with 6. Steve Kryk had 7 digs and Jordan Pawlicki set for 29 assists.
The Wildcats were led by Royko with 14 kills, Cal Rafferty with 13 and Griffin Shields with 10 kills and 7 blocks. Alex Coyne distributed 40 assists, and Matthew Porter led with 8 digs.
"The whole story of the match was our errors," Coyne said. "We made hitting errors and a lot of net violations. I think our guys were going for the huge block to get our momentum back and we may have brushed the net. We had beaten them at the Glenbard East Tournament and won the first game tonight, and we may have gotten a little overconfident. "
Coyne reflected on the Wildcats' success this season.
"I couldn't have asked for a better senior year," he said. "We worked well together. I love every guy on the team. It's a shame it had to end tonight."