Boys volleyball: Stevenson aces out Palatine
The Stevenson boys volleyball team is tough to beat when senior outside hitter Grant Maleski is getting the job done on attack.
When he extends that hitting prowess to the service line, the Patriots are just about unstoppable.
On Wednesday night Maleski, who stands 6-feet-9, excelled in both areas.
He had 6 aces in the second game to go along with a match-high 15 kills as Stevenson defeated Palatine 25-21, 25-19 to win the Fremd regional championship.
It's the first regional title for the Patriots since 2012 and also the first for Maleski, who has been on varsity since his freshman year.
Fifth-seeded Stevenson (25-12) moves on to face the top seed, Libertyville, at 5:30 p.m. Friday in a Palatine sectional semifinal.
"We were never able to get out of regionals before today," said Maleski. "It's kind of bittersweet that I wasn't able to do it until my last year, but I'm so proud to be able to do it with this group of guys."
Palatine pressed the issue early and had a lead halfway through the first game before Stevenson found its mojo.
"We felt confident coming in to execute our game plan," said Pirates coach Frank Stark, "but Stevenson was awesome. They've got a couple nice players, obviously, and we didn't take them out of their system all night. We made it easy for them.
"I think this is the best we've seen (Stevenson) play all year."
Palatine held a 2-point lead in the first game before Stevenson turned the game around at, of all places, the service line.
Two consecutive aces from senior Austin Zhou, following another by Will Sorensen, propelled Stevenson to the first-game win.
Zhou's aces were just in and changed the tide of the game.
"I think that gave us some confidence and some momentum," said Zhou. "We were confident coming in -- we watched Palatine beat Lake Zurich last night but we felt that we could compete with both teams."
Palatine started strong in the second game, taking an early lead behind superior block kills by Johnny O'Shea and Camden Hill.
But the Pirates were quickly overwhelmed as 3 straight aces by Maleski gave Stevenson a 9-4 lead.
"When he (Maleski) doesn't miss on his first couple of serves, he just gets on a roll," said Zhou. "We bank on that."
Three more aces from Maleski helped the Patriots open a 22-11 second-game lead, but Palatine didn't give in.
The Pirates scored 8 of the next 10 points before Stevenson could get a side out.
A final kill from Maleski closed out the win.
"We sometimes have trouble maintaining our energy," said Stevenson junior Matt Cliffer, "but tonight everyone was hyped up and we were able to maintain that the whole way. This is a big accomplishment and it's going to be fun to play Libertyville again."
Maleski added 7 digs on defense. Teammate Leo Chen had 6 kills and setter Haddon Kay contributed to the victory with 24 assists.
"It's hard to win a regional championship," said Stevenson coach Eric Goolish. "I'm so happy for these guys -- especially the seniors, the guys who've been here two or three-plus years."