Girls volleyball: Downers Grove North enjoys banner night at Glenbard West
For the first time in about three decades, someone at Downers Grove North will need to make a nice update to the volleyball banners hanging in the gym.
The top-seeded Trojans outlasted host Glenbard West 25-15, 20-25, 25-23 to claim the program's first sectional title since 1988. With the win Downers Grove North (27-12) advances to Friday's Geneva supersectional against St. Charles North, a team it defeated this season at the Wheaton Classic.
"In our gym every sport has a banner for things like state and conference and every day we look up at that thing and it says '1988, Fourth Place in State' so that has kind of been our motivation since July," Villanova-bound Clare Delaplane said. "They had a huge fan section and they were playing at home, but I just love how we played and we battled and I'm proud of our team."
Downers Grove North, which also handed the Hilltoppers a three-set loss in the regular season, played a sharp first set and, after taking a 20-13 lead following a Payton Wendt kill, looked primed for a sweep of short-handed Glenbard West (29-10). After all, the second-seeded home team lost its top player to injury in Monday's sectional semifinal defeat of Wheaton North.
But even without Ananda Patterson in uniform on Wednesday, Glenbard West extended the match to the wire, closing out the second set on a kill by Hannah Brodner and playing to a 23-23 draw in the decisive third set before finally coming up just short.
"We fought hard," said Brodner, the lone senior on the roster, who had 8 kills and 12 service points. "The first set was kind of about getting situated because there was such a big crowd here tonight. But we fought hard in the second and third set and that's all you can ask."
The Hilltoppers played better than anyone could have expected while missing Patterson, but the Trojans had just too much firepower. Setter Beth Dunlap was on top of her game, and Delaplane and fellow outside standout Margaret Mahlke combined for 24 kills and Maddie Degiorgio provided another boost with 7 kills.
"We were a young team last year and we were 20-17 and I told these girls at the end of the season that that record is not indicative of who we can be a year from now," Trojans coach Mark Wasik said, "Particularly with the schedule we play, and here we are and it has kind of come to fruition.
"Just making it happen and taking advantage of a sectional that was favorable for us. Not every sectional is going to super deep and you've got to take advantage when it's there. We're always on the outside looking in and now we're on the inside."
The Hilltoppers lineup, loaded with talented juniors and a 6-foot-1 sophomore outside hitter in Virginia Curtis, who had 9 kills, should be a power next fall. Junior setter Kaitlyn DuMurer had 29 assists despite playing without her favorite target, and junior middle Nina Crawford led the attack with 13 kills.
"We were underdogs, for sure," said Crawford, referencing the loss of Patterson. "Our coach said we had to play free, so we just wanted to go out, have fun and end the season on a high note. We have 11-12 juniors … we're not trying to look ahead but we feel pretty good about our chances for next year."
Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea, who guided the program to second place in state in 2015, couldn't have been prouder of his team's effort.
"We told them the future is now. Everyone says, 'Oh you're going to be good next year, but with all these juniors and the experience they had, they're going to be good right now. Tonight they did a great job and I'm proud of them."