Ian Turkula would have loved this match.
Mundelein High School honored its former volleyball player on Friday night. Turkula succumbed to a brain tumor back in January.
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For this special night, Mundelein coach George Dressen shook up his lineup. His starting setter, David Everding, moved over to libero and stole the show with his defensive skills and heads-up play.
Scott Heffernan, who had been on the bench most of the year, took the controls of the 5-1 offense as the setter. And the former libero, Jake Langlie, headed to outside hitter.
Those moves paid off. Mundelein (12-13) slowed down an improving Stevenson squad 25-21, 25-20 on this emotional night.
Everding recalled his friend, Turkula.
"That was tough,'' Everding said. "He was a great kid. I never saw him mad. He was never mean. He was really genuine."
It looked like Everding, a senior, had been playing libero the entire season. He was all over the court, diving for balls and firing speeding serves at the Patriots. The former setter used those skills to secure 3 kills.
"We had played Vernon Hills two days ago,'' Everding said. "And we lost badly. So we needed a change. We played out of minds tonight. It was a great game."
Stevenson did give in without a battle. Rising star Grant Maleski, a 6-foot-7 freshman, was a force at the net against the Mustangs. He finished with 6 kills.
"I think it's the first time in the program's history that we've had a freshman on varsity,'' said Stevenson coach Eric Goolish. "He's a special player. I have him playing on the outside and he's been a middle hitter."
Although this first set was tied up early, the Mustangs began to pull away. Sam Nelson had a kill and Everding had one of those incredible kills where he passed the ball to the open spot on the court.
"Mundelein played great defense,'' Goolish said. "They played with high energy."
Stevenson (10-14) pulled within 23-21. The new outside hitter, Langlie, provided the winning margin with a gorgeous block kill.
"I felt great for playing outside for the first time,'' Langlie said.
Set two began with the Pats surging to a quick lead. Maleski scored on a net ace and sophomore Justin Leonard knocked down a kill. Again, the Mustangs came back and on a kill from the new setter, Heffernan, and the Mundelein lead was 14-11.
"I was on the bench the whole year,'' Heffernan said. "But tonight was the most fun I've ever had playing volleyball. I was a little nervous to start with but in a few minutes, I was head strong."
Turkula's parents spoke after the match. Goolish noted his players understood what happened here.
"They get it,'' Goolish said. "Our kids were really supportive. They didn't share a lot. But they sold shirts. I can't be any luckier to have kids like this."
Despite the excellent performance by his team, it was a hard night for Mundelein's Dressen.
"It's hard enough to lose someone to cancer when they are in their 70's,'' Dressen said. "It's like losing someone in your family."
Clearly, his new-look Mustangs came ready to play.
"Stevenson has been playing very well,'' Dressen said. "But I'm really proud of the way we played. We really rose to the occasion. And it was great to honor Ian."