Benet boys volleyball coach Amy Van Eekeren desperately was seeking a spark during the first set against Joliet Catholic Academy on Tuesday.
The answer turned out to be her oldest son, Jackson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who could count his previous match appearances on one hand.
"I think I did pretty well, and she told me I did, too," Jackson Van Eekeren said.
Van Eekeren helped the Redwings elevate their intensity, but inconsistency and too many mistakes still resulted in a stinging 25-16, 25-21 East Suburban Catholic Conference loss in Lisle.
Jackson Van Eekeren, who had 7 assists and a service ace, was among the leaders for Benet (13-6, 1-2) with Ben Mazza, Scott Kleiser, Garrett Metzger, Mark Schuessler and Logan Ladowski.
The Redwings had 20 kills for the match but 12 attack errors and also had 9 service errors and just 2 aces in the second set.
The Hilltoppers (15-6, 3-1), off to their best start in program history, won at Benet for the first time.
"This is uncharacteristic. We played terrible," Amy Van Eekeren said. "Unfortunately, if you can't serve the ball in the court and hit the ball in the court, you simply can't win. It's especially disappointing because it's the turning point of the season. We're past halfway. We need to be playing our best and unfortunately we just did not tonight."
Jackson Van Eekeren entered midway through the first set. He helped Benet trim a 19-10 deficit to 6 points twice before JCA scored the final 3 points.
"I put him in to change things up. He's been practicing amazing," Amy Van Eekeren said. "I was so proud. He came in with aggressive serves from the get-go, several assists, a couple of blocks, he played defense. He played great. Both he and Ben Mazza played the most consistent, the most aggressive the entire match."
Jackson Van Eekeren has volleyball in his blood. He was born just five days after his mother defied her doctor's advice and coached Naperville Central to the 1998 boys volleyball state championship.
He previously was coached by his mother in volleyball from fifth through eighth grades at St. Raphael School.
"It's a little bit different but not too much because once she gets into the game, she starts acting like a coach. She doesn't act like my mom anymore," Jackson Van Eekeren said. "And she's going to do whatever it takes to win. She's going to do what she feels is right."
"And I'm harder on my own kid," Amy Van Eekeren said. "I really thought he was a huge momentum shift for us. He only had two errors the entire match."
In the second set Benet led 5-4 and 6-5 but three consecutive attack errors put JCA ahead at 15-10. Metzger's two service points, the Redwings' only multiple-point serving streak Tuesday, brought them to within a point at 20-19, followed by 21-20 and 22-21. JCA sophomore Blake Reardon responded each time with his final three kills.
"We need to play more like that instead of like in the beginning, when we were slow (and trailed 6-1 to start)," Mazza said. "Our whole thing is as a team we need to make our serves. We'll get on a run where we miss our serves over and over and we just can't get our momentum back."
The insertion of Van Eekeren allowed Mazza, the Redwings' usual 5-1 setter, to be an attacker for the first time this season. It's a lineup they may test in Wednesday's ESCC match with Nazareth and at their ninth annual Benet Invite on Friday and Saturday.
The Redwings have been without 6-11 senior Ricky Gevis, the only returning All-ESCC player from last year's undefeated league champion, since his 82 kills at the Marist Tournament on March 28-29.
Both teams started just one senior Tuesday, but the Hilltoppers boast five returning starters.
"(Gevis) was our dominant, go-to guy so it's certainly hurting our team," Amy Van Eekeren said. "I think we're trying to find our identity because we were playing so aggressively with him."