Girls volleyball: Vernon Hills perseveres through adversity
The start of the Vernon Hills girls volleyball team's spring season has been interesting.
To say the least.
Twelve of the Cougars' 16 varsity players were put on quarantine after three days of tryouts due to a positive COVID-19 case. That left coach Chris Curry with two players, both new to varsity, returning from their own quarantines, two returning starters who also played basketball, and, "well, a challenge," Curry said.
Curry added three JV players, two varsity athletes from other sports (junior CJ Leuck: cross country, basketball and soccer; and sophomore Kate Sear: cross country, basketball and track and field), "and plowed ahead," he said.
Curry noted the Cougars got one practice in with that cobbled-together group, then played three matches last week before injuries to those two returning varsity players (Daniella Jarrell and Alexa Cieslinski) forced Vernon Hills to postpone a match against Niles West.
"So, how are we doing?" Curry asked. "We are doing great. We are playing. The lower levels are unaffected, except for the players we borrowed, and we get everyone back later this week to resume practices and start playing matches with the full group this Friday."
Vernon Hills lost to Grayslake North, Maine South and Deerfield, all in two sets, last week. Curry was impressed with Cieslinski and Jarrell for carrying much of the burden last week, plus libero Bella Pappano and setter Katie Perritt. "Bella and Katie had not played volleyball for Vernon Hills since their freshman year, and both had great matches all week and never came off the floor," Curry said.
Curry also tipped his cap to Leuck and Sear. "Our new and now retired friends of Vernon Hills volleyball put themselves in a new and uncomfortable position so we could keep playing," he applauded.
The short-handed Mustangs (1-1, 1-1 NSC) have only two returners from last season, plus new sophomores and a freshman on the team. Sophomore libero Isabella Feijoo was 22 of 24 in serve-receive in the first two matches with 26 digs. Junior outside Kadra Balla had 6 kills, was 20 of 24 serving (3 aces) and 25 of 27 in serve-receive with 16 digs in two matches. "With little varsity experience on the team, the players have stepped up," Mundelein coach George Dressen said. "The coaches are proud of how hard they are working and how much fun they are having being together playing the sport they love once again."
Grayslake Central update:
The Rams lost to Johnsburg in three last week and swept North Chicago in a pair of nonconference matches. "The first week of play is such an important barometer," coach Arian Colton said. "The biggest take-away, which we already knew, was that serving and passing is key. We have been working on hitting our zones, serving aggressively and being disciplined and confident on serve-receive."
Junior middle Piper Gallaher and senior outside Jocelyn Marcelain had strong weeks. Gallaher joined the team late after finishing up basketball. "Both stepped it up as the match progressed against Johnsburg," Colton said.
Grayslake North update:
The Knights went 2-1 last week in nonconference matches against Vernon Hills, Wauconda and Carmel.
Senior Jessica Pozezinski had 14 kills and 23 digs in two matches, while Alyssa Gerzel had 15 kills in two matches. Junior Emily Porter had six aces and 17 service points during one stretch, to go with 18 digs. Senior Shleby Kellogg had 27 assists in the three contests.
Antioch opened with a win against Grant. Coach Greg Bruns cited strong play from senior setter Maiah Moll and Hannah Benes, normally the team's libero, but pressed into hitting on the right side due to a couple of club-volleyball-related absences. "Maiah has done a good job of using and connecting with all the hitters -- we lost a few to graduation and transferring to a new school," Bruns said. "Hannah did a real job of hitting and blocking with only one practice doing it."
Defense was the name of the game for the Wildcats last week in wins against Waukegan, Lake Zurich and Lake Forest with defensive specialist Alannah Howell and libero Olivia Sauers as the Week 1 stars. "Alannah and Olivia have keyed our defensive prowess these first couple matches," coach Greg Loika said. "They are controlling the flow of the rally behind our block well and completing excellent first touches in serve-receive. When rallies extend, our chances to score improve exponentially."
Carmel opened the season with wins against St. Viator and Grayslake North and a loss to Benet in East Suburban Catholic play. Coach Dave Pazely had great things to say about Riley Clark, who led the way hitting; Julia Shrofe, who ran the offense when the Corsairs were down to only one setter; Ally DiBartolo and Sydney Rini, normally defensive specialists, who have taken on new roles as outside hitters, "and are part of the reason why our defense is so strong," the coach noted. "Our versatility is shining through as the players find new ways to succeed."