As Stevenson girls volleyball coach Tim Crow tended to his pregnant wife and increasingly large family, his team's opponent, Lake Zurich, dealt with size issues of its own.
Stevenson trots out 6-foot-5 Kara Maleski and 6-2 Julia Osmond, while 5-10 Khaila Donaldson plays taller than her height thanks to her athleticism and leaping ability.
"That's a real tall team there, and they can block the ball," Lake Zurich coach Matt Aiello said. "And we don't get blocked a whole lot."
The Bears don't lose much, either. They finally figured out how to attack Stevenson's length and just in the nick of time. Mallory Parsons, Sydney Glover, Kiley McPeek, Allie McIlwain and 6-1 setter Kristen Walding combined for 32 kills, as visiting Lake Zurich rallied for a 25-27, 25-13, 25-22 win Wednesday night.
The Bears improved to 16-2 overall and 4-0 in the North Suburban Lake. Their only remaining divisional matches are against Mundelein and Warren.
"We started off a little shaky," said Parsons, who had a team-high 8 kills to go along with 2 blocks, 3 digs and an ace. "We came out a little intimidated, but we really snapped out of it. In the second game we just wanted to stay together and play our game because when we focus too much on what the other side is doing we kind of get in our own heads."
Crow went home during the day to be with his wife, who was expecting to deliver the couple's fourth child, possibly by the end of the night.
"We haven't (talked to him)," said Donaldson, who led Stevenson with 10 kills. "I wanted to, but I figured he's probably stressed out (laughing) -- because there's a child coming into the world. We'll just let him come back to practice and we'll ask him all about little Crow."
The biggest lead in a back-and-forth opening set was four points, which Stevenson (8-5, 1-2) held twice. Down 24-22, the Patriots battled back thanks to a kill by Osmond. They eventually prevailed on a block by Maleski, moments after Donaldson recorded one of her 13 digs by fending off a laser off the arm of McPeek.
"Our energy level was pretty high in the first game, and I think that helped carry us through," Stevenson assistant coach Allison Fink said.
Stevenson had trouble receiving Lake Zurich's serves in the second set, with back-to-back aces by McPeek extending the Bears' lead to 22-12. A Parsons block finished the middle set.
"It took us a little while to adjust to their size considering they're one of the biggest teams in the state," Aiello said. "Once we figured that out -- hitting and blocking -- we were a lot more comfortable. We could simulate (Stevenson's size) only so much in practice. I thought we dealt with a lot of our own physical errors pretty well. We stayed calm."
The final set resembled the opening one in that neither side could pull away. Lake Zurich trailed 15-13 before a kill and block by Mickenzie Andrews (3 blocks) helped the Bears rally. A block by Osmond staved off match point for Stevenson, before Parsons' down-the-barrel spike, off Walding's 28th assist, ended it.
"I love playing Stevenson because we pull out some of our best games here," Parsons said. "It was a long match. Everyone was putting so much effort into it."
Osmond finished with 8 kills, 1 solo and 3 assisted blocks. The Patriots' Grace Duffy slammed 3 kills, while Alexa Bykowski dished out 22 assists. Peyton Bykowski registered a team-best 14 digs.
"We can always play better," the Howard University-bound Donaldson said. "That was a fraction of what we can play. We're just going to go back to the gym tomorrow and be like, 'This and this didn't work, and this and this did.' "
"They're so talented," Fink said of Stevenson's players. "I think our biggest issue is we need to come together as a team and start to play more focused."
Glover's performance, which included 7 kills and 2 blocks, earned Aiello's praise. McPeek and McIlwain added 6 kills apiece for Lake Zurich, while the Northeastern University-bound Walding also had 5 kills and 2 blocks. Ashley Dina dazzled defensively with 26 digs, as the Bears found a way to win.
"We had a lot of first-ball passing errors," Aiello said. "We were in the net a lot on our block. That was trying to time them. We also didn't hit very well in Game 1 or Game 3. And in Game 2 we weren't as good as the score."