The last time the Warren boys volleyball team made it to the sectional, senior middle hitter Max Bongratz was barely out of grade school.
But Bongratz and his teammates are well-versed on that history. It's what motivates them to go a little harder in the state tournament, as they did Tuesday night at the Antioch regional.
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The top-seeded Blue Devils had little trouble knocking off a scrappy Waukegan team in the semifinals, 25-12, 25-15. Warren will now face No. 2 Zion-Benton in today's regional championship game (6 p.m.) at Antioch.
"We know that the furthest Warren has gone is the sectional (finals) and the last time that happened was 2008," said the 6-foot-4 Bongratz, who finished with 3 kills. "That's our goal. At least.
"I think our chances are pretty decent this year."
They will be if Warren can continue what it started against Waukegan.
The Blue Devils, who move to 23-13 on the season, had a comfortable lead throughout both games, and also showed plenty of offensive balance.
Mitch Maan de Kok, Warren's 6-foot-7 senior middle hitter, led the way with 7 kills while 6-foot-4 senior hitter Jeremy White had 5 kills. Setting them up most of the time was senior setter Arvind Kouta, who finished with 21 assists.
"Our setter knows who to go to at different times, like who's hot and who's in rhythm and we have a very well-balanced offense of different guys to go to in the middle and on both sides," Warren coach Yun Chen said. "They all work pretty well together.
"We also stress to serve aggressively and I thought we served well tonight. A couple of players got some good runs with their serves."
White and Bryant Holland each had 2 aces for Warren and White served a string of 8 straight points in the first game.
Holland and White also led Warren in digs with 6 and 4, respectively.
Zion-Benton d. Lakes: In the second regional semifinal game at Antioch on Tuesday, Zion-Benton also got a sweep.
The Zee-Bees took care of Lakes, 25-17, 25-23.
Zion-Benton, which moves to 23-12 on the season, advances to today's regional championship and will face Warren, which swept Waukegan earlier.
Challenged more in the second game than the first, Zion-Benton finally put away the victory on 3 straight kills by an emotional Zac McKelvy, whose primal screams got a little louder with each thunderous kill.
"If I'm feeling it, if I'm rocking back and forth, and the energy is there, I'm just in a zone," said McKelvy, who zoned out to the tune of 7 kills, which tied teammate Kyle Fitzgerald for game-high honors. "When our team gets a kill, it just gets me excited. It just takes energy for us to play our best volleyball."
After Juan Nino and Dillon Appenzeller rattled off 6 quick points to take a 16-10 lead, Zion-Benton was never really threatened again in the first game.
Lakes fell behind again early in the second game, 9-5. But the Eagles, who lost go-to hitter Richard Galat the day before to a freak accident in warm-ups (broken pinkie finger), showed some character and came back. Lakes took a 21-19 lead and forced the Zee-Bees to call a timeout.
But then McKelvy got hot and helped Zion-Benton close out.
"I think it was hard for us to come out without a go-to player like Richard," Lakes coach Katie Cheek said. "But I was telling our guys, this is a good indication of what next season is going to bring for you. Richard is a senior and he's our star, but he's going to be gone next season. Most of our other guys are young guys who will be back next year and I just told them, 'go out there and let's see what you can do. Let's start stepping up right now and see who's going to be your go-to hitter.'"
The Eagles, who close out their season with a 14-23 record, got three players to fill that role. Underclassmen Nick Halberg, Avery Brode and Dalton Solbrig each had a team-high 6 kills. Setters Colton Jewell and Zach Powell had 10 and 9 assists respectively.
"In that first game, it was hard to get used to not having Richard (Galat) in there because we rely on him a lot," Halberg said. "But in that second game, I think we realized that it could be our last chance to play for the season and we needed to make something happen and push through and I think we did that more."
Zion-Benton made sure it wasn't too much. The Zee-Bees, who did not have much luck against Warren during the regular season, want another shot at the Blue Devils.
"We were not overly competitive the last time against Warren, we just didn't play well," said Zion-Benton coach Jacob Carlson, whose team last won a regional two years ago. The Zee-Bees went on to advance to the sectional finals. "We're just going to have to play our level of volleyball. We have been hoping that we would get the opportunity to play Warren again in this setting, the regional finals."
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw