Girls volleyball: Neuqua Valley gets jump on Yorkville
It's usually asking for trouble to send a free ball over to your volleyball opponent, and it can be lethal when the player on the other side of the net has big-time hops.
Doing its best to hang tough with sixth-seeded Neuqua Valley in the second set of Tuesday's Class 4A regional in Naperville, No. 12 Yorkville missed a couple key serves and also sent a few easy shots toward Riley Ammenhauser, who soars as well as anyone in a gym.
With the two-time state champion triple-jumper slamming down a pair of free balls late in the second set, the host Wildcats finished off a 25-20, 25-20 sweep of the Foxes.
Ammenhauser was credited with 2 kills and 2 blocks on the night but saved two of her biggest swings for late in that second set. Neuqua Valley (24-12) broke from a 13-13 tie with a 12-7 run to close out the match. The win sets up the hosts with a Thursday regional title match against fourth-seeded Naperville Central (27-9), which eliminated Plainfield East in straight sets in Tuesday's first match.
"If there's a free ball I just get a huge adrenaline rush, and I just try and jump up," said Ammenhauser, a middle blocker. "I get so ready to slam down the ball. It's an amazing feeling. It feels really good to do that."
It also feels good to win and the balanced Wildcats have been doing plenty of that lately, shaking off a sluggish start this fall to finish the regular season on a roll while claiming a share of the DuPage Valley Conference crown with Waubonsie Valley.
After losing to the Redhawks in a marathon match early this season, the Wildcats beat them in two sets recently to pass them in the league standings and to give themselves some extra confidence heading into the postseason.
Senior libero Bailey Houlihan credited playing at home with giving the team a boost and hopes for more of the same good vibes on Thursday.
"We definitely had a mindset coming in since it's our homecourt advantage as well we just knew that we were going to win and we knew we could play our best," she said. "Our passing, our defense, our hitting and our blocking showed up at the end. It was awesome.
"I know we're very confident about Thursday. We're 1-1 so far and we'll just see who comes out on top on Thursday."
Neuqua outside hitter Faith Johnson led the attack with 10 kills and added 7 digs, while setter Ally Knapczyk had 17 assists, 3 digs and a pair of aces. For Yorkville, which closes out the year 17-18, Bella Alfaro had 10 kills, Roni Blissit 9 digs, and senior setter Maddy Bourque recorded 20 assists, 6 digs and 3 blocks.
"I was really proud of us," Foxes coach Zach Sinn said. "That was the best we've competed all year. It just came down to a couple mistakes where we gave them points. We missed a couple serves … just those mental lapses. But I'd say 90-95 percent of the time we were playing very high level volleyball right there with them.
"They played well, but we gave them a lot of their points … we're a very young team. At any given moment we've got 3-5 sophomores out on the court. Mentally they stepped up today and showed they can compete with one of these big schools."
Wildcats coach Kelly Simon was happy with the way her team played but knows it will have to continue its strong play with tougher competition just around the corner.
"The energy is really, really good and the energy was up throughout the entire match and even when Yorkville tied it up 11-11 in the second set they kept their composure," she said. "I mean they're going to have to. Naperville Central is a phenomenal team and we're going to have to be rock solid and to play our best ball. And I imagine we'd see (top-seeded) Benet after that, so regardless we know we've got to be at our best from here on out."