Boys volleyball: St. Francis seniors not done yet
St. Francis seniors Marcus Ingold and Danny Fernandez might have graduated Sunday, yet they keep returning to school.
They're still practicing and playing to help the boys volleyball team capture their first regional championship since 2014.
"It still feels like we're going to school because we haven't not gone, except the weekend," Fernandez said.
"For me (Tuesday without class) was just taking time at home. Not really watching TV or anything but just listening to music, taking time for myself and getting mentally prepared."
The Spartans often played like a No. 1 sectional seed in defeating No. 16 Willowbrook 25-14, 25-8 in the semifinals of the Naperville North regional.
Riding a 13-match winning streak, St. Francis (31-5) goes for the regional title at 4 p.m. Wednesday against No. 8 Hinsdale Central (28-9), a 25-21, 25-19 semifinal winner over No. 9 Naperville North (19-18).
"I remember playing in playoffs last year and sophomore year, too. This is the game we'd always get out on," Ingold said. "I usually get focused during school. I just found a way to get focused at home and come to the game prepared."
Ingold showed that with a personal-best 12-point service streak that blew open a 3-3 tie in the second set. Junior K.J. Glob finished with 11 kills, junior Bryce Walker and Ingold 7 each and sophomore Aiden Benson 5. Sophomore Kevin Schuele had 25 assists.
Senior Joe Cavazos led Willowbrook (12-25) with 6 kills.
The Spartans have several returning starters yet still are young with five sophomores and two juniors joining Ingold and Fernandez in their usual nine-player rotation.
"They weren't too loose but they weren't tense, which is what you want out of a young team. That added pressure on them (seeded first), they definitely stepped up tonight and met that challenge," St. Francis coach Mike Lynch said.
"In our sectional the top 16 teams, really anyone can beat anyone. It's that well balanced. (Wednesday) we know we have to step up and play really well to advance out of this regional."
The Spartans responded with one of their best offensive showings -- 27 kills and just 3 attack errors. Lynch was as excited about the offense being balanced, a challenge he gave his players after their last loss to powerful Marist April 20.
"It's probably one of the best days our offense connected with our setter," libero Fernandez said.
"It definitely keeps teams guessing where the ball is going," Lynch said. "We didn't start the year off with an offense like this. It takes a while to get them to buy into it. We might make more mistakes at first, but we've become a lot more efficient now."
Willowbrook advanced Monday by beating West Suburban Gold rival Morton in a 25-23 third set. The Warriors will return junior setter Jack Walsh, who had 12 assists Tuesday.
"I'm encouraged. The kids kept fighting. Never got down," Willowbrook coach Ryan Bazon said. "We came out OK. We've struggled all year to come out and have that consistency for one full match, one full game."
With the focus that St. Francis underclassmen hopefully have for their remaining final exams this week, Ingold delivered his impressive service streak for a 15-3 advantage. Glab had 4 kills and Walker a kill and two of his four total blocks during the run, which included an Ingold ace.
"It was a good run and I liked the experience that the serving gave me. It helped our team get into the game more, more focused," Ingold said. "I felt the serve come to me so I just kept serving to the right positions."
Ingold eclipsed an 8-point service run earlier this season.
"He's just very focused on his serve, much more consistent, too. That's why we have him back there," Lynch said. "It's not that big, flashy jump serve. It's a floater that's hard to handle. It moves and dies."