Girls volleyball: Neuqua Valley finds a groove vs. Naperville North
Somewhere along the way in the first set Tuesday night, everything started to click for Neuqua Valley. The Wildcats hope to find a way to stay on that fast track.
Trailing 13-7 to host Naperville North following a kill by Huskies middle Kara Oxenknecht, Neuqua Valley picked up its game a notch starting with a booming kill from Liel Thomas. That opening set then went back and forth before the Wildcats eventually prevailed 25-21. With that comeback win in its pocket, Neuqua then steamrolled the Huskies in the second set to complete the 25-21, 25-11 DuPage Valley Conference girls volleyball sweep.
"We've kind of had an up-and-down season so far, like not too consistent. But after that first game we really took control and we executed," said Wildcats setter Ally Knapczyk, who recorded 23 assists without any errors in the match. "That's what we're looking for and that's our expectations."
Fellow senior Faith Johnson, the team's captain and powerful outside hitter, backed up her setter's sentiments and added that the strong finish may indeed lead to bigger and better things for the team.
"It took us, I'm not gonna lie, in the first set it took us a little while to step on the gas and it wasn't until the end (that we got going)," said Johnson, who had 9 kills and 2 blocks against the Huskies. "It was like we were really playing lazy and not playing the best that we can, so we had to step on the gas and really get going."
The visitors scored the final four points of the first set to pull away from a 21-21 tie, with one Johnson kill breaking the draw and another one closing out the match.
Johnson and her setter were clicking in the match and the team also got a boost from its middles, including track state champion Riley Ammenhauser, whose leaping ability makes her a force at the net.
"That's how we finished out the first set and the second set, I guess we just carried out that momentum," Johnson added. "That's how we're supposed to play. I'm really proud of how our team played. I feel like it was really a mindset change. We picked it up and it really just clicked. We know we can play that way."
The Wildcats stormed ahead 10-3 in the second set aided by a pair of aces from Lauryn Housholder and never looked back.
"Yeah, we're coming along," Neuqua coach Kelly Simon said. "The middles are getting it and that's a big part of our game now. They really had a lot of impact tonight. We needed some blocks and we needed some kills in the middle and they did their part. Riley's the jumper and she's quick. If they're with her (on defense) then they're not with Faith so she has a lot of court then to swing."
The Huskies were led by Eva Hartung's 11 kills, while setter Anna Jaworski finished the night with 23 assists and 3 kills.
"I was really proud of the way we played the first set. I thought it was one of our better sets of the year, despite losing," Naperville North coach Jen Urban said. "I thought we played really well. I think in the second set Neuqua played pretty flawless. They didn't make many errors.
I thought we passed well, and we hit well as a team, but we just couldn't find ways to string together points. That's a good team. They have a lot of veterans that have played together for years."