Boys volleyball: Vernon Hills state-bound after beating Zion-Benton
If going furthest in school history is the goal, then there is only one place left for the Vernon Hills boys volleyball team to go.
The Cougars have a rich tradition as a program, and a plaque in the gym recognizes their third-place finish at state in 2011 and their second-place finish in 2015.
"We want to be the first team in Vernon Hills history to make it further than all the rest of our teams," Vernon Hills senior outside hitter Tony Mischiara said. "There's only one spot left and that's what we want.
"We're fully capable of that."
Vernon Hills will get its chance to find out on Friday if a first-place finish and a state championship is its destiny when it returns to the IHSA state finals. The Cougars earned that right by sweeping Zion-Benton in the sectional championship they hosted on Tuesday night, 25-15, 25-23.
Vernon Hills, which is now 33-1 on the season, will face Glenbrook North in the noon quarterfinal at Glenbard West on Friday. Glenbrook North is the only team to defeat the Cougars this year.
"It took a lot of heart (to sweep Zion-Benton)," Mischiara said. "We came into it with the mentality that we wanted to win and needed to win and I think we just got it done."
The Cougars used a deep, balanced attack to do that.
Mischiara had 8 kills, Jack McDonald led the way with 12 kills and Erik Giezycki and Ryan Ellis each had 5 kills.
McDonald, the Cougars' top hitter on the season, also believes that chemistry has something to do with the Cougars' success this season.
"We've been looking forward to this season for awhile because we knew this team would be special, McDonald said. "I think we jell on the court because off the court, we're always hanging out together.
"We call it team bonding but it's two or three times every week. It's turned into a friend group. We're more than teammates. We're really good friends to each other. It's been such a great season and I can't wait to see what we do at state."
Setter Kevin Schumacher had 20 assists and the Cougars also had balanced defense with three players with more than 4 digs apiece. Mischiara had 7 digs, Jeff Altmark had 6 and McDonald had 4.
The defense was kept busy by the hard-hitting of Zion-Benton outside hitter Jaxon Hicks and Osmar Barajas.
The Zee-Bees finished 14-6 on the season and placed third in the North Suburban Conference.
"We fought pretty hard tonight," Hicks said. "This match was one of our toughest matches of the year, one of the best of our whole season.
"Our offense was our best thing all season. We have amazing hitters, outsides and middles and that was the strongest part of our team."
Vernon Hills will face another batch of strong hitters on Friday against Glenbrook North. The Cougars are excited to get another shot at the only team to defeat them this season.
"This experience (of going to state) will be new to these kids, but I also know that they know our history," Vernon Hills coach Chris Curry said. "There are some kids with older brothers who were on the team when we finished second and they've talked about trying to have no regrets about anything down there.
"It will be a tough road because there are a lot of good teams down there, including Glenbrook North. We looked a little different than the first time we played them, but they probably look different too. We're looking forward to it.
"We're just so excited. Look at this, we're going to state and that's pretty fun."