Boys volleyball: Wheeling falls to New Trier
They were the last men standing.
And they almost stayed alive for another day.
But the Wheeling boys volleyball team, the last team of any kind at school still playing in the IHSA state playoffs, couldn't outlast New Trier on Friday night in the sectional semifinals at Glenbrook North.
The Wildcats, who were one of the most successful teams on their campus this school year, forced a third set before falling to New Trier, 25-18, 21-25, 25-19.
New Trier, which improved to 29-7, advances to Tuesday's sectional championship against Loyola, a three-set winner over Glenbrook North.
Wheeling, which won its first regional title since 1996 to get to the sectional, closes its dream season with a 30-9 mark to tie the school record for most wins in a season,
"We had the whole school behind us (during the tournament run) and that was a good feeling," senior outside hitter Jared Moser said. "We were the only Wheeling sport still going. And it's cool that we have our team picture in the hallway because we tied the school record for most wins.
"I'm going to miss the chemistry of this team. We played our hearts out every game. We 'just vibed.' "
'Just vibing' was Wheeling's theme for the season, a reminder to just roll with it, to not get too high or too low. Those words kept the Wildcats from crumbling after a 25-18 loss in the first set turned into an 18-13 deficit in the second set.
"We just always wanted to play for the next point, don't get too high and don't get too low, stay even keel and it will take us far, which it did in that second set," said Moser, who finished with a match-high 15 kills. "When we were down, I told our guys it wasn't over and we got back into it."
Moser and senior libero Joe Hernandez each had some big service points to cut Wheeling's second-set deficit. Eventually the Wildcats took the lead and closed out the win.
But Wheeling couldn't keep the momentum going and New Trier got some big plays at the net in the third set by Peter Brown and Colin Heath, both of whom finished with a team-high 6 kills.
"Wheeling played really well in that second set and it was just really important that we never got down on ourselves," Brown said. "We fought back in that third set. We had some really nice swings today. It was a good win."
New Trier coach Sue Haak knew her team would be tested. She hadn't seen Wheeling in person this season, but when she scouted the Wildcats on tape, she was concerned.
"They are a really good team," Haak said. "We haven't played against Wheeling in probably about 15 years. We don't see them ever during the season. But as soon as we watched that scouting video, we were really impressed. They have a lot in their arsenal and have really strong attackers. We knew we had to play at the top of our game.
"We were glad we were able to adjust in that third set and take care of business."
Brown and Emmett Burnside topped New Trier with 4 blocks apiece while Aaron Schatz had 16 digs and setter Zach Salberg had 21 assists.
For Wheeling, senior middle hitter Jan Baranowski added 9 kills while Moser had 8 digs and Hernandez and Baranowski each had 6 digs. Setters George Tsogtbaatar and Jared Urueta had 15 and 9 assists respectively.
"We showed a lot of persistence and resiliency and a fighting spirit this season and tonight," Wheeling coach Jason Kopkowski said. "I just wish we got off to a better start. We were lucky last week against Maine South. We did the same thing in the first two sets against them too, so it's part of who we are.
"But this is a good group. And we accomplished a lot of our goals this year and that's fun."