As the returning starting libero for the York girls volleyball team, senior Alex Danciutiu has embraced her expanded responsibilities this season.
After graduating only three seniors but all very important ones, the Dukes now use three freshmen in their lineup of numerous returnees.
"It's very different being a senior now. It's more of like, 'Sure, I'll help you. I'll mentor you. I'll be your big sister on the team,' " Danciutiu said.
"There's definitely more pressure, but there's also more us (returnees) motivating and wanting more out of ourselves this year. We're relying on the team as a whole instead of particular players."
The season focus has been gradual improvement. Monday's 26-24, 25-21 West Suburban Conference crossover home victory over Downers Grove South in Elmhurst was another step.
The Dukes (12-8) may not have played a perfect match but showed great fortitude to hold off the persistent Mustangs (9-17).
After turning a 5-3 deficit into a 6-5 lead, York never led the first game by more than three points but also never trailed even after four more ties. York trailed the opening part of the second game before taking the lead for good at 19-18.
"This match was a little bit slower than normal, but we played more together collectively," said York junior Jess Levy, whose team-high 5 kills came in the first game. "We didn't just see six parts. We saw a whole team and that's kind of the first time that's happened in a while so that's cool. Even though it was tied and tight at times, we knew we were going to pull it out because we trusted each other and what we were doing."
Danciutiu had 12 digs and 7 service points with 3 aces. Levy added 5 digs and 6 service points with 2 aces in the second game, freshman Emily Fleckenstein had 14 assists and senior Molly Evans, junior Asha LaBine and freshman Stella Barr each had 3 kills.
For Downers South, junior Lucy Dumford had 7 kills, senior Nicole Zowaski had 14 assists and 8 service points with 3 aces, senior Sydney White had 5 kills and sophomore Addy Karmik had 4 kills and 7 assists.
York coach Patty Iverson said while her team only had 3 blocks for points, they also had 8 aces with 4 errors and a strong back-row play to overcome just 4 kills the entire second game.
"Unusual that we didn't block well and we didn't hit particularly well, but we passed better than we've been passing and we served great. We're playing great defense. If all that stuff comes together, watch out," Iverson said.
"We're just going to have to get better every time we play. We played kind of average and we still won. At the beginning of the year, if we played kind of average, we would have lost the match."
The Mustangs must rebound quickly. They lead the West Suburban Gold with a 4-0 record but still must beat fellow front-runners Addison Trail on Tuesday and Hinsdale South on Oct. 17.
"We just need to be a little more consistent, a little bit more vocal," Downers South coach Trisha Kurth said. "We've had some pretty good matches this year where the girls have really worked together. I just don't think tonight was one of those moments, but we've had those moments this year."
The Mustangs tied the first game 24-24 on a kill by junior Abby Valliere. The Dukes answered with a Levy kill and Fleckenstein served game point won at the net after a deflection by Barr and Evans.
Junior Sophia Glabus, who entered in the second game to improve the Dukes' blocking, had two solos and gave them their 21st and 22nd points on kills. After the Mustangs closed to 23-21 on an attack error, LaBine had a kill and scored the next point on a block with Levy. Senior Logan Kazmierczak ended the match with an ace.
"This year I feel we have so much potential, just having so many young players on the team," Levy said. "Everyone's played together for a while so we all kind of understand how each other works. We've been motivated, we've been playing together and we want a lot more from ourselves this season."