Boys volleyball: Chen/Mitra buddy system beginning to benefit Stevenson
It has been a season of change for the Stevenson boys volleyball team.
Lineups have changed frequently because of a pileup of injuries.
Even the offense has changed, from a 6-2 to a 5-1 to a 6-2 again.
One thing that has stayed constant is the chemistry between sophomore hitter Leo Chen and junior setter Arnav Mitra. They don't start, but they sub in at the first rotation and are paired up together in the Patriots' 6-2 offense.
Chen and Mitra have been playing club volleyball together for two years for Adversity, and it shows.
They played a big part in leading Stevenson to a breezy 25-7, 25-10 sweep of North Chicago on Tuesday. The Patriots, who have had their intended starting lineup together for only five matches this season because of injuries, improve to 14-16 overall but could deceive in the state tournament with their record as their injured players continue to return to good health.
Chen had a team-high 6 kills and Mitra had a team-high 15 assists, almost half of them to Chen.
"We've worked really hard in practice," Mitra said. "And I think we've shown that running a 6-2 with us and (starting setter) Jeffrey (Wang) can really bring the team together and we can do a lot of nice things with it."
Stevenson coach Eric Goolish intentionally paired Chen and Mitra together in the 6-2. Mitra primarily looks to set up Chen.
"I've played with (Chen) in club and we've had a really nice bond and I've really liked setting him," Mitra said. "He's very versatile. I can throw him a bunch of different sets and I know he'll be successful in putting them down."
At 6-foot-4 and with good jumping ability, Chen is able to get a sharp downward trajectory on his hitting attempts, making many of them un-diggable.
"(Mitra) is really good at getting the sets out to everybody," Chen said of his setter. "But for me, it just feels really comfortable because we have played together in club. He gives me a lot of different sets and we try things out and it's just really fun."
Justin Leonard, Alex Lulka and Mark Kanaris each added 4 kills for Stevenson. Wang chipped in with 7 assists and Peter Drozdzewicz led the defense with 6 digs.
Mitra served up 22 points.
Trevon Jackson topped North Chicago with 4 kills.
The Patriots were once again without star 6-foot-8 hitter Grant Maleski, who has missed most of the season to recover from a broken wrist. He sat out the North Chicago match with sudden back pain.
Middle Matt Cliffer, who has been struggling with foot injuries all season and playing in a boot, discovered this week that he has a fracture in the foot and will not be able to play for the next two weeks.
Stevenson has been down eight players this season due to injuries and illnesses.
"It's insane," Goolish said. "It's like once we get someone healthy, we just come up with other injuries to make us not healthy again. It's just one of those things that makes you smile at this point.
"But we got everyone in tonight and that can be helpful. And we still like our chances (for the tournament). We had a good weekend (last weekend) at the Glenbrook North tournament. Glenbrook North won it and we lost to them 27-25, 27-25. They are a really good team and for us to play them tight like that was really good.
"We're still looking for consistency because we haven't had everyone together for too long. If we can get that going, we think we can be the team we know we can. (In the tournament), we will be playing a team that hasn't seen us healthy yet. Hopefully that's in our favor a little bit."