Not bad for a season opener.
While his teammates were logging their 17th game of the season Friday night at Grant, Vernon Hills setter Ryan Opitz took the floor for the very first time.
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After the Cougars rolled to a breezy 25-12, 25-21 victory, one of Opitz's teammates verbalized potential tweet material, "It was 'hashtag the return' today."
Normally a starter, and one of the most experienced players on the team with two varsity seasons already under his belt, Opitz made a much anticipated return to the Vernon Hills lineup. He had been forced to sit out the first 16 games of the season due to disciplinary issues.
"I just learned that I have to get my act together, don't do stupid things and keep looking forward," said the 6-foot-4 Opitz, who recently committed to play volleyball next year at Dominican University. "I'm ready to put it behind me.
"It didn't feel like I had been gone that long. In my head, it felt like I had been here all along. But with the team, I wasn't sure how they'd feel about me being back. Today, it seemed like we all went out there and played like I've been out there the entire time."
Opitz, who has been practicing with his teammates all season, certainly looked as if he were in midseason form. He rolled up 15 assists, served an ace and came up with 4 block kills, including one for match point.
"We had gotten into a pretty good rhythm when we had our sophomore Jared Bennett setting while Ryan was gone," said Vernon Hills coach Chris Curry, whose team improves to 11-6 on the season and 4-0 in North Suburban Conference Prairie Division action. "But the speed of the offense goes so much quicker with Ryan. The guys really had a nice practice (on Thursday) where we played Ryan with the first unit for the first time and you could just see that it really opens up a lot of options."
Speaking of options, Opitz spread the opportunities to a variety of hitters. And they all kept Grant guessing. Dylan DeBoer had 4 kills while Tristan Klintworth and Lem Turner each had 3 kills and Tyler Small and Michael Heinz had 2 kills.
"I've set all those guys a lot of times. Mike (Heinz) and I have been playing varsity since sophomore year, and I've known a lot of these guys for a long time," Opitz said. "I know exactly where they want it and I put it there."
Grant, which showed more fight in the second game and actually had a late lead (19-17), is hoping to one day have that kind of chemistry within its program.
The Bulldogs (3-20, 0-6 NSC Prairie) are still working on the basics in just their second year of IHSA competition.
"And Vernon Hills is a pretty well-established program that went to the sectional final last year and was third in state a few years ago. That's a big difference there," said Grant coach Jon Schaap, who got a game-high 6 kills out of Mitch Meier and 10 assists out of setter Tony Catinella. "But we're making strides. We're already better now than we were by the end of last season.
"The tough thing is that we're just starting so far behind the rest of the programs in this area. We had a grand total of zero guys play club this year, and little kids really aren't growing up playing volleyball around here. It's a different culture around here than say Vernon Hills, where they grow up playing club and they've been playing volleyball for years."
Junior Andrew Fischer, who had a team-high 5 digs against Vernon Hills, thinks it's just a matter of time before Grant players follow suit."
"It's hard sometimes to stay positive right now, especially against teams like Vernon Hills, because they're so good and we're still so new," Fischer said. "Part of it is just making sure we play more (in the off-season). But the other thing is that we've got to start wanting to be good volleyball players and constantly look to improve."