Nobody could blame Alison Burelbach for feeling snake bit.
A strained back forced her to miss the second half of Glenbard West's banner season last fall.
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She was back for club volleyball, enjoyed a breakout summer -- then broke her hand in July.
Cleared to return last week, Burelbach sure adds another dimension to an already good Hilltoppers team.
Glenbard West's junior outside put down a match-high 14 kills on Tuesday, and the No. 6 Hilltoppers pulled away in the third game to beat Oak Park 25-18, 23-25, 25-17 in Glen Ellyn.
"I just want to stay healthy," Burelbach said. "It's great to be back helping the team out."
With Burelbach added to the mix, a growing sophomore with high upside in Natalie Schilling and veteran senior middles like Caroline Jenkins and Katie Ball, Glenbard West (8-1, 1-0 West Suburban Silver) can't exactly be pigeon-holed as a "scrappy" defensive team anymore.
"It's enormous for us to have her back," said Hilltoppers coach Pete Mastandrea, whose team's only loss, to Montini, came without Burelbach. "Alison, she's as athletic as all get up. That's a kid who's just had some tough luck."
On the heels of a big win over Marist Monday, the Hilltoppers found themselves in a dogfight in their conference opener.
Splitting the first two games, Glenbard West trailed 7-6 early in the third and still held a tenuous lead at 13-12. From there, though, they rolled off a decisive 10-2 run. Two Oak Park errors started it, and a Schilling kill was followed by two Jenkins kills and a block.
Ball dropped in a kill off a slide play to set up match point, which came on an Oak Park net violation.
As much of a program win as Monday was, Mastandrea had no interest in letting a conference match slip away.
"Today was more important than yesterday, no doubt," said Mastandrea, whose team was unbeaten on its home court last year in winning the Silver for the first time in almost three decades. "Two days in a row in this heat is asking a lot, and we weren't as sharp as yesterday. I'm glad we were able to pull through."
Ball concurred that two straight nights playing in a steamy gymnasium with temperatures pushing past 90 outside is a challenge both for body and mind.
"It's hard to focus," Ball said. "You're thinking about how hot you are, how exhausted you are. It felt even warmer tonight. But you have to keep pushing yourself."
Schilling had 11 kills and Ball followed up a big 7-kill night against Marist with 6. DeMaar had 23 digs for Glenbard West, which heads to the Crossroads Classic in Effingham this weekend.
"We've had two great days from our middles. I'm so proud of her," said Mastandrea, pointing Ball's way. "Being 8-1 heading into Effingham is good for us."
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