McLaughlin keeps Glenbard West rolling

Senior Night was more emotional - and busier - than Glenbard West senior Emily McLaughlin initially expected.

For the seventh straight match on Thursday, McLaughlin, usually a reserve, was the Hilltoppers' starting setter in place of four-year starter Kate Wagner.

"I love the team. I hate playing at Kate's expense," McLaughlin said. "I've been on her team since fifth grade, but getting the opportunity to play is just amazing. It's fun to get my time."

The Hilltoppers continue to not miss a beat. They clinched their fifth straight 30-win season by beating Downers Grove South 25-20, 25-19 in the Glen Ellyn meeting of co-champions from their respective West Suburban Conference divisions.

After underclassmen spoke before the match about the seven seniors, the Hilltoppers (30-5) used key performances from their two NCAA Division I seniors - Duke-bound, four-year starter Natalie Schilling and Western Michigan-bound Quiana Ware.

Schilling had 14 kills and 2 aces. Ware had 5 kills and served for 12 points, including a key 8-point run in the first set.

McLaughlin, who had 23 assists, has a volleyball scholarship to NAIA Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.

"Our team this year has so many layers, a lot of depth. It's good to practice with two teams that hold their own," McLaughlin said. "At the beginning the biggest adjustment was running into a game totally unexpected. After that it was pretty easy just getting thrown into drills and normal practices."

Since Wagner suffered a concussion during the match at Addison Trail on Oct. 15, the Hilltoppers are 6-1, losing a tight match with Mother McAuley in Saturday's Autumnfest semifinals. Earlier this season, the Hilltoppers lost Ware to an ankle injury.

The adversity, combined with their toughest regular-season schedule ever, have the Hilltoppers poised for a fifth straight regional title and great postseason run.

"It says a lot about the seniors. They really, really have been that huge supportive team," Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea said. "(Senior Kaitlyn Ohrnstein) filling in for Quiana, we had that huge win over Downers North. (McLaughlin) has been off the charts setting for Kate. Ever since I've gotten here, our seniors have taken us to another level."

Wagner participated in warmups and will return for regionals. The Hilltoppers are the No. 2 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield sectional to York. At full strength the Hilltoppers lost at York in three sets Sept. 22.

"Kate's going to be back. Quiana's really getting her groove back after being out, so I think we're just really confident," Schilling said. "We don't want the season to end."

Downers South, the No. 7 seed in the Lyons Township sectional, also should be 100 percent for regionals. Coach Trisha Kurth forced starting outside hitter Kiera James to sit out Thursday with strep throat. Senior Rachel Schneider had 9 kills and Renee Kryk had 14 assists.

The first game was even until Ware's eight straight service points opened an 18-10 advantage. The Hilltoppers never trailed in the second game after Schilling's back-to-back aces for a 14-13 lead. Ware's 3-point service run opened an 18-14 margin.

"We either play real rough coming out of the box or right towards the end," Kurth said.

With Glenbard West a regional host, the seniors should have two final home matches.

"We get to come back, but the entire thing's really emotional (tonight)," McLaughlin said. "It's a bunch of happy tears. Nobody wants it to be over, but it's just a great feeling of family."

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