Girls volleyball: Quick starts propel Wheeling over Palatine
In a lot of its losses early this season, Wheeling's girls volleyball team was playing catch-up from the get-go.
The Wildcats reversed that trend on Tuesday night and it resulted in a 25-13, 26-24 triumph over visiting Palatine in the Mid-Suburban League crossover match.
The home team got off to a 7-0 start in Set 1 -- thanks in part to six straight service points from senior Grace Zambrano -- and then jumped ahead 7-2 in the second set.
"We practice 'first to five' points and I think that helps us get off to a better start," said Wildcats senior outside hitter Ally Ferraro, who had two of the Wildcats' 7 kills. "We played hard after that and never gave up. We looked for the open spots on the floor and used our blocking to our advantage."
Taking advantage of some unforced errors, Wheeling (4-8) extended the lead to 8-3 before Ferraro stepped to the service line and reeled off seven more points for a 15-3 cushion.
"We've been in a lot of situations this seasons where we've been on the other side of that," said Wildcats coach Jason Kopkowski. "And playing from behind is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.
"So I'm glad the girls got the great start. I'm glad they came out ready to go. That was probably the best start emotionally they've had all season and then they just rode that wave."
Chicago State recruit Zambrano finished with 3 kills and 4 assists while classmate Emily Lacaeyse had a pair a kills.
"Grace Zambrano had a great match," Kopkowski said. "Our defense, as whole, had some really slick touches.
"And on the pins, both Ally Ferraro and Emmy Lacaeyse did a great job of mixing up their shots, keeping the defense off balance and keeping the ball in play to give us a chance."
Palatine (3-4) rallied in Set 2 and pulled into a 12-12 tie on back-to-back kills by 6-foot-3 senior Emily Campe.
Campe's service point later tied the set at 22-22 before a block by Jillian Smith gave the visitors the lead.
A double hit call tied the set again at 23-23.
Lacaeyse then came up with a big ace to put Wheeling in front 24-23 before Campe's 12th kill tied it again.
Zambrano then punched a kill just inside the line to make it 25-24 before junior libero Johana Veloso served the match-ending ace.
"I was joking with Jo," Kopkowski said. "We were in a similar situation over the weekend, and we missed that serve.
"So hopefully, the girls are taking those mistakes and making their adjustments. Hopefully we're learning from them and staying hungry and going for the big point when it's necessary."
Veloso also ended the first set with an ace.
The Pirates open MSL West play on Thursday against Schaumburg.
"We'll just get back in the gym and practice (on Wednesday)," said Pirates coach Dan Gavin. "It's early in the season. There is a lot of room for growth. We obviously have to take some pretty major strides.
"We're too inconsistent now. There are moments of brilliance but too many moments where there are mental lapses and those are coming back to haunt us."
Gavin brought junior Julie Garcia into the back row for the second set.
"I thought Julie did a nice job stepping in at libero," the coach said. "She doesn't have a ton of varsity experience. She doesn't even really practice with us. She usually plays with the junior varsity.
"So I thought she rose to occasion a little bit. It's a learning opportunity for her, too."