Last season senior Graham Clark and his Wheaton North boys volleyball teammates achieved the program's first victory over Wheaton Warrenville South in what felt like an eternity.
When the Falcons won their home and DuPage Valley Conference opener over the Tigers 25-21, 25-18 Tuesday, the celebrating was more subdued.
"Our expectation last year was, 'Hey, let's try and pull an upset and beat Wheaton South. This has never been done.' And we did it and we were excited. But today we came in going, as a team, we can win this game," Clark said.
"We stayed focused all day. We stayed focused all week and that was the expectation, to win. When we won, we were excited, but that was the expectation."
Joe Mullinger had 9 kills for the Falcons (5-2). Clark, Jack Kirschbaum, Mark Anderson and setter Hank Bowen each had 4 and Bowen added 21 assists.
Jared Wilcox had 7 kills for the Tigers (6-6) and Kolbie Knorr added 4. Ben Carpio had 9 assists.
Wheaton North had not played since the Joliet West Tournament on March 29 but combined strong back-row play with a balanced offense. Six players each had at least 2 kills.
"It was awesome to come out for the conference opener and play like that," Wheaton North coach John Noe said. "The focus was when we play the cross-town rival and the guys kind of feel ready to win is keeping it focused and not getting too excited, but saying point by point we've got to expect the best out of them and expect the best out of ourselves. We expected it to be a battle."
The Falcons only were behind briefly in both sets. They never trailed after pulling ahead 5-4 in the first set and 4-3 in the second.
After two points from Kirschbaum for a 20-14 lead in the first set, the Falcons were in front by at least three points the rest of the way. Three points from Johnson, including an ace, opened a 19-11 advantage in the second set.
"I think our block and middles were huge. They got all the way side to side and set up a good block that we could play defense around," Bowen said.
"(Noe) emphasized in practice our ability to bounce back. They have great players and they're going to get their great hits and we just need to focus on what we can do when it's our side of the net. The passing, the setting, the hitting, everything was there that allowed us to do that."
The Tigers scored more than one point on a serving possession only twice, and both were for just two points. Their second one after a Jack Kiplinger ace closed the gap to 20-16 in the second set, but the Tigers struggled with a free ball and the Falcons regained the serve.
"We couldn't string two points together if our life depended on it, which is ultimately, incredibly disappointing. I think some of it was what they did, but I think a lot of it was what we did," Tigers coach Bill Schreier said.
"You expect more out of a group, especially in a situation where you go up against Wheaton North. This is definitely not a performance that's going to be tolerated. We need to compete, bottom line."
The Falcons only graduated three starters. Bowen and Clark also are third-year varsity players, and Noe is their third coach in as many seasons. A 2007 Wheaton North graduate and former player, Noe quickly has gained respect from his players with high demands and emphasis on perfecting the Falcons' strong passing and back-row play.
"It's almost helped us in a way because we've had emphasis from three different coaches so we're starting to put together every facet of the game," Bowen said. "Just with all of the returning starters, we have high expectations that we don't have any huge, gaping weaknesses in any facet of our game right now."
Graham was more than happy to share the offensive spotlight with two new starters, the much improved Mullinger on the outside and Sam Bedrossian, the other middle hitter. Bowen distributed freely between the outside and middle for points.
"It's just amazing to have a few seniors leave at those positions and then the next year have players who are just as good come in," Clark said. "It's just been amazing to have the ability to pass as well as we have. We're passing better than we ever have and that lets everything be so much easier."