Girls volleyball: Downers Grove North rises to occasion at Glenbard West
Junior Jacki Lucas and many of her Downers Grove North girls volleyball teammates quickly are learning the challenges of varsity competition this season.
"I feel like the fight is the most important part, not necessarily winning, but always putting up your best game," Lucas said. "Even if we are losing, as long as we're playing as a team and doing the best we can, it's just exciting to get all of those points in."
Especially after a rough second set Tuesday, the Trojans faced quite a pressure cooker at Glenbard West. But they came through for the 25-11, 18-25, 25-22 West Suburban Conference Silver Division victory in Glen Ellyn.
Downers North (4-4, 2-0) was last year's undefeated Silver champion en route to second place in Class 4A but also graduated nine seniors.
Senior setter Grace Malone, junior libero, Michigan recruit Madison Cuchran and sophomore outside hitter Gwendolyn Wolkow are the only returnees with significant varsity experience.
Malone especially was encouraged that the Trojans won their first three-set match of the season.
"Glenbard West is good competition, so I was really happy with the win because we're still in it for (winning) conference," Malone said. "Our team's really young, but everyone's stepping up and doing their job."
Glenbard West (8-9, 0-2) led the early part of the third game until back-to-back kills from Wolkow put the Trojans ahead for good at 16-14. Two more kills from Lucas helped them pull ahead 21-17, Martin delivered the kill on match point.
"The more we started talking it out and getting communication on the court back, we kind of just figured out what we needed to do and it just clicked at the end," Lucas said.
"It's a really big confidence boost (for me) because last year it was kind of like all over the board. This year I'm getting a lot of kills and Grace has a lot of good sets that I feel are really hittable."
Wolkow had 13 kills, 7 in the first set. Improved passing as the match progressed allowed Malone to spread the offense, and Lucas finished with 7 kills and Elisse Martin and Grace Beacom 6 apiece. Cuchran and Sophie Rodriguez had 19 and 18 digs, respectively.
Also going through growing pains after numerous graduations, Glenbard West was led offensively by two senior returnees, Virginia Curtis and Anna Sear with 8 and 6 kills, respectively. Freshman Liz Murray had 12 digs and 11 service points.
Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea was encouraged by his team's rejuvenation after just 4 kills in the first set. It was another bittersweet Silver result, however, because the Hilltoppers lost their opener 26-24, 26-24 Sept. 12 at York after leading 23-20 in both sets.
On Tuesday the Hilltoppers had six service errors in the third set after two the first two.
"When you have a young team, you're going to be up and down. We've showed moments of very, very competitive volleyball. I'm hoping to see that on a more consistent basis by the end of the year," Mastandrea said.
"I thought it was anybody's game in the last set. We just need to learn to execute down the stretch. We had too many errors at the end, too many bad decisions. It's going to come."
Downers North coach Mark Wasik was baffled over the Trojans' reversal of fortune in the second set. Their 10 attack errors were more than their other two sets combined.
One improvement was to be less distracted by the large and loud opposing crowd.
"I challenged them to get tough with that and enjoy it, relish that. For whatever reason, we played a little more solid, a little more aggressive that third game, and that was the difference," Wasik said.
"Very young. We're just getting going. We're back loaded (with our schedule) and that's when we want to get picking up and developing. We'll still take our lumps because we're young, the inconsistencies, but we're competitive and I'm happy about that."