As a four-year starter for Conant's girls volleyball team, Jenn Donnell has played with girls from all different classes.
When it came to attacking on Tuesday night, Donnell was in a class all by herself.
Contact information ( * required )
The 5-foot-11 senior slugger put down a match-high 11 kills to help the visiting Cougars surge past defending Mid-Suburban West champion Palatine 25-22, 25-14 in a divisional opener.
"Usually, we'll have a better balanced attack," said Peggy Scholten, the Hall of Fame coach who is in her 37th season directing the Conant program. "But everyone knows who our go-to person is (Donnell)."
Donnell was the beneficiary of the solid setting from senior Sarah Mazurek (7 assists) and junior Elisa Ambrose (8 assists).
"They distributed the ball beautifully," Scholten said. "And Kari Thomsen (a senior defensive specialist with 7 digs) is very steady and consistent, and that's what you need in a libero."
Nursing a 23-22 lead, the Cougars needed back-to-back kills from Donnell to win Game 1.
"I love this team," Donnell said. "I haven't played with all these girls all four years, but now I'm with all of them from my class and it's fun."
The Cougars (5-4, 1-0) had fun in Game 2, pulling in front 9-4 on a kill by Mazurek.
The Pirates (1-7, 0-1) never got closer than 4 points.
"It was great to start conference this way," said Donnell, who also led her team with 9 digs. "Our energy was a little slow in Game 1 but we picked it up in Game 2. We just came out with the attitude that we had to push really hard. We said, 'We've got to go at it harder than them.' "
Senior Drea Catalano added 3 kills and 5 digs for the Cougars while teammate Sarah Manczko added 2. Mazurek had 4 digs and DeeDee Durr 3.
"We capitalized on their errors," said Scholten, who has 643 career wins and another 218 with the boys program for a combined total of 861. "We played very consistent and solid."
The Pirates were led on attack by senior middle Kim Butler with 6 kills while junior setter Caitlin Riedy handed out 14 assists.
"Kim Butler had a nice match," said Pirates coach Dan Gavin. "Her hitting efficiency was at .600. We're challenging her to go after it blocking wise, but I'm really pleased with her offense."
The Pirates struggled at the service line, missing their last five serves of the match.
"When you are trying to catch up, that makes it almost impossible," Gavin said. "They (Conant) really broke us down on serve receive. Part of that was that they did a nice job serving and part was us struggling. And our decision-making has to get better."