Boys volleyball: Glenbard West wins battle of unbeatens

Glenbard West senior Adam Graham wasn’t nervous Tuesday, even when his team was on the brink of suffering its first defeat of the season.

“Something we’ve been preaching all year is teams are going to score on us, teams are going to do amazing things in games, and we can’t get rattled,” Graham said. “We have to continue to play our game and trust that volleyball is a long game.

“We’ve got three sets and over that time, we’re going to be able to do our jobs.”

The defending state champion Hilltoppers did exactly that in rallying to beat visiting Oak Park-River Forest 24-26, 25-17, 25-20 in a battle of unbeaten West Suburban Conference Silver Division powerhouses.

Graham, a 6-foot-2 opposite, spiked nine kills to share the team lead with senior outside Casey Mass. But Graham saved his best work for late.

Oak Park (12-1, 2-1) went ahead 20-19 in the third set on a kill from Daniel McNeilly.

Graham responded by ripping off kills on the next four points — three off assists from senior setter Jack Anderson and the other by winning a joust at the net. It was the start of a closing 6-0 run by the Hilltoppers (13-0, 3-0), who clinched the match on a block by 6-5 junior outside Charlie Clifford.

“We’ve been pretty outside heavy this season, so they had a double up on our outside most of the game,” said Anderson, who finished with 26 assists, three kills and two blocks. “We were just going to reverse the flow and it’s pretty hard to stop a lefty oppo, especially when he’s that smart.

“(Graham) is a super smart hitter.”

Graham is also smart off the court. He won’t play college volleyball, but he plans to study biomedical engineering at Wisconsin.

“I’ve got to give credit to my team,” Graham said. “I can’t do it without Jack — he’s our great setter.

“We had great passing. I think we had Andrew (Ellis), Casey and Charlie back there. They were getting the ball in system and Jack just made great decisions, knew what to do and at the end of the game, we just did our job.”

Oak Park, which was a state semifinalist last season, got a tremendous performance from freshman outside Trayce Chrusfield III, who led all players with 15 kills and four aces. McNeilly added 11 kills and setter Quinn Bozarth dished 33 assists.

But the Hilltoppers, who rallied from a 23-18 deficit to take a 24-23 lead before losing the first set, pulled away late in the final two sets. They closed the second set with an 11-3 run and didn’t panic when trailing 18-15 in the third.

“We have a team word every year,” Graham said. “This year our team word is ‘control’ and that’s what we did in that third set.

“We knew we got control of this game. Even if we’re down, we can control our emotions, control what we’re doing on the court, and if we can stay in control, we’ll be able to come back and take that third set.”

Senior middle Xzavion Willett contributed five kills and five blocks for the Hilltoppers, while Clifford added eight service points, four kills and two blocks. Ellis led all players with nine service points.

“I’m proud of my kids,” Glenbard West coach Christine Guinta-Mayer said. “It was an outstanding game.

“We still have to figure a lot of things out, but this is what the kids work for. This is why we work so hard.”

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