Senior Sterling Glover and his Glenbard East boys volleyball teammates have a new offensive look after the graduation of all-time kills leader and All-Area selection Joey Farrell.
"Last year I was more of the keep in play, make a smart shot, try to put them out of system. This year I'm more of the try to rip a ball, get the kill kind of hitter," Glover said.
Glover's final kill Wednesday was a sweet one on match point to give the Rams a hard-fought 31-29, 25-20 victory in their season opener over Willowbrook in Lombard.
The Rams trailed the early part of the first game but rallied and finally converted on their fifth game point -- and after holding off two game points for the Warriors (1-1).
"Willowbrook's always a fun challenge for us, just crosstown rivals. We like to come out with a big bang and that was definitely a good game," Glover said. "We have a lot of younger guys on the team that were on (junior varsity) last year. Once we got settled down in the second half of the (first) game, we were really able to play our game rather than just play off of theirs."
Glover and Nick Symonds provided the bulk of the Rams' balanced, two-setter offense for Andrew Hurlburt and Cory Soehren.
"We lost to (Willowbrook) twice last year, so that was definitely a goal to come in here and play well," Glenbard East coach Marci Maier said. "As much as I try, I cannot create that game intensity, that energy at practice. It was awesome that we were able to string enough points together to win, but I thought both teams played well."
Glover, Soehren and Brad Cardott return for the Rams. Glover and Soehren are coming off a club season together with the Hitmen Volleyball Club.
Ben Wozniak is the only returnee and senior from Willowbrook's 26-11 team of 2013. Wozniak and juniors Ryan Wakely and Anthony Acitelli led a Warriors offense also undergoing change. Junior setter Tommy King takes over for graduated All-Area selection Kyle Dewyer.
"We're all juniors so we talk about where we're at versus what our ceiling is. I'm not upset with the outcome. I'm proud of our guys totally," Willowbrook coach Ryan Bazon said. "Glenbard East is always a fantastic team. I think that one could have gone either way. They pulled it out. They won some important points."
With Willowbrook leading 22-20 in the first game, Glover had perhaps the biggest kill of the match after a long point. The Rams soon had their first game point at 24-23. The Warriors held, as well as at 25-24 and 26-25, before having their chances to win at 27-26 and 28-27.
The Rams regained the lead at 29-28 on a block by Glover and Adam Eboli. After both teams missed serves, Cardott served game point, which came on an attack error.
"He's one of our best servers. No doubt in my mind that the ball was going over and in and it was going to be a tough serve," Maier said.
Glenbard East opened a 4-1 lead in the second game. Once the Rams held a 19-14 advantage, they led by at least three the rest of the way.
After a 3-2 lead in the first game, the Rams fell behind by as many as three points and didn't pull in front again until their first game point.
"I don't know if I'd look at the score so much," Glover said. "But the fact that we came back from so many game points, we showed how our team can persevere and push through and get the gritty points that we need later on in the season."
Willowbrook does hope to improve its aggressive serving. The Warriors had 1 ace with 12 errors, 8 in the first game.
"We tried to make that transition. I wish we would have made it a little earlier in game one," Bazon said.