Geneva sweeps St. Charles East behind its powerful front row

Geneva is determined to make 2015 a season of firsts for its boys volleyball program. The Vikings took a solid step forward on Tuesday, tipping off Upstate Eight Conference River Division play with a 25-21, 25-22 victory over St. Charles East in their home opener at Mack Olson Gym.

Geneva has set its sights on winning its first outright conference title after sharing the crown with East and St. Charles North last season and claiming its inaugural regional championship. The Vikings are relying on a veteran core from a 2014 team that won 25 matches and has high hopes of putting together its best season to date.

"We want to win the conference and go as deep as we can in the postseason," said junior middle blocker Jon Bishop. "We know we have the talent to do it. It's just a matter of picking each other up, encouraging each other when we make mistakes and giving our best effort each day."

Geneva graduated only three players from its 2014 rotation, and most of the returning players played together this fall and winter with the Kane County Jrs. volleyball club, helping the team make a smooth transition into the early portion of the high school season.

By comparison, St. Charles East graduated all but three of its players from last year's 23-win squad, including outside hitter Luke Spicer, who now plays at Dominican University. The Saints kept both sets close but couldn't overcome the Vikings' powerful front row, which features 6-foot-8 outside hitter Nick Buseski, the 6-5 Bishop, 6-5 middle blocker Sam Wulfkuhle and 6-3 setter David Franz. East's front row has just one player taller than 6-1.

Bishop and Buseski, who will play volleyball at Kean University in New Jersey next year, were especially effective in the second set, when Geneva began double blocking the Saints' middle hitters with its left-side and middle hitters after middle blocker Jack McCann registered 5 kills without a hitting error in the opening set. Geneva's twin towers combined for 10 block assists in the match and forced East to attack the Vikings mostly from the outside and via the occasional back-row attack throughout the second set.

"They had some good middle attacks in the first set, so when we used the double blocks in the second set, that neutralized them some," first-year Geneva coach Annie Seitelman said. "Our blocking struggled at the Plainfield North tournament (on Saturday), so we worked on it a lot in practice yesterday. As a coach, it's always nice to see what we work on in practice translate to our matches."

St. Charles East combated Geneva's size advantage with strong passing, setting and hitting in the first set, drawing within 15-14 on a kill by 5-10 left-side hitter Michael Carbonell and a pair of Viking hitting errors. But Geneva scored seven of the next nine points, capped by a block kill by Buseski to make it 22-16, en route to taking the opening set.

The Vikings took the second set lead for good at 8-7 on a right-side kill by Spencer Sharpe. The Saints stayed within striking range for the rest of the set, but Geneva never let East catch it again. The Vikings' offense kept the Saints off-guard as Franz (22 assists) distributed his sets to the left, middle and right sides. Buseski (8 kills), left-side hitter Luke Will (6 kills), Wulfkuhle (4 kills), Sharpe (3 kills) and Bishop (2 kills) formed a balanced attack.

"Our serve receive really made the life of our setter easier," Seitelman said. "Serving and passing are the two key areas for us. If we take care of both of those areas, the rest of our game will fall into place."

Pacing Kate McCullagh's Saints were junior setter Jake Lauger, who spread around his 22 assists to McCann (6 kills), sophomore middle blocker Jack Macklin (4 kills), Carbonell (6 kills), left-side hitter James Farace (6 kills) and right-side hitter Grayson Cain (2 kills).

Geneva is now 4-2 after winning three of five matches to finish in sixth place out of 16 teams at the Plainfield North Invitational over the weekend. The Vikings compete in the Blackhawk Tournament at West Aurora on Saturday before facing St. Francis and Streamwood next week. St. Charles East hosts Larkin in its home opener on Tuesday.

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