Emily Mankowski isn't new to Naperville North's varsity volleyball team.
But this is a new Emily Mankowski. The Huskies are all the happy for it.
Mankowski continued her stellar early-season play Tuesday, putting down 8 kills -- including match point -- with 2 aces and spot-on passing in No. 10 Naperville North's 25-19, 25-15 win over Metea Valley in Naperville.
Mankowski was all-tournament at Plainfield North over the weekend, leading the Huskies (5-1) in kills, aces and passing percentage. Huskies coach Jennifer Urban has taken notice of Mankowski's huge improvement.
"She is one kid who came in and looked like a different player," Urban said. "She's playing with confidence, and the girls have more confidence in her. They know that she's going to be a big-time player for us."
Mankowski played some right-side as a junior. Now she is one of just two Huskies playing six rotations.
She is clearly a force at the serving line. Asked if she served a "heavy ball" or puts unique spin on it, Mankowski shrugged and gave a simple response.
"I just kind of hit it. I don't really think about it," Mankowski said. "I just know when I get back on the service line I have to take my time and not rush it. My coach gives me zones that she wants me to serve it to."
Mankowski is one of four 6-footers in the Huskies' starting lineup, a stark contrast to a smaller, quicker Metea team whose tallest girl is 5-foot-10 Lexie Lobdell. It showed at times in long rallies Tuesday.
Megan Wernette, a 6-3 Huskies middle, slammed a kill off a slide play at 12-10 in the first game to start a Naperville North surge. Wernette later put down game point, one of her 8 kills. Another Wernette kill capped a 6-1 Huskies run in the second game that turned an 8-6 deficit into a 12-9 lead.
That size also plays well on the block.
"We do have a nice line that helps us well with blocking," Urban said. "With our size we should be a good blocking team."
Lobdell led Metea (4-3) with 5 kills and 7 digs, a Lobdell kill giving the Mustangs a short-lived 8-6 lead in the second. Nina Tuszynski had 4 kills and 6 digs, Ellie Petersen 15 assists and Autumn Long 12 digs.
Mustangs coach Dave Macdonald has a good team but knew what he was up against Tuesday.
"Naperville North is tall, and we knew that would be our deficiency going in is we have a small team but a quick team," he said. "We have to get our timing down better on our blocks. You're leaving the court way too open.
"I thought we came out with a lot of energy in that second game and then it just got away."
Emily Kwak added 23 assists and Ellie Ivancich 12 digs for Naperville North, which bounced back well from a tough finish at an otherwise good Plainfield North Invite showing. The Huskies beat highly regarded Plainfield North and No. 14 Crystal Lake South in three games, before losing to No. 15 St. Charles North in the final.
"We definitely ran out of gas in the finals," Urban said. "It was good to get back on the court and get a win."