Girls volleyball: Downers Grove North sweeps cross-town rival
With the Downers Grove North girls volleyball team clinging to a one-point lead in the second set Thursday, junior hitter Emma Barton solidly put away the quick-middle set from senior Sandy Brindl.
The 5-foot-11 Barton already has more than twice as many kills than she did during the entire abbreviated spring season.
"Our chemistry with our setters and each other is really good and you can tell when we play," Barton said. "Just playing more and feeling more comfortable on the team and not so new to it, I've just felt more confident for sure."
The Trojans still boast one of the state's best full-rotation players in senior Gwen Wolkow, but others in expanded or new roles also contributed to the balanced effort and 25-19, 25-14 victory at rival Downers Grove South.
Downers North (4-2) hopes to defend its West Suburban Silver title. Thursday's victory was its fourth straight and keeps the seniors undefeated against the Mustangs (3-7).
"We just wanted to play as a team, stay together and just push and play our game. And just stay positive the whole time," Wolkow said.
"I feel like we can keep growing and growing and I think it's possible (to win the Silver)."
Wolkow had eight kills, 16 digs and four blocks along with Barton. Following in kills were Barton and senior Grace Beacom with six each, junior Colleen Engstler with four and senior Isabella Samsa with three. Junior libero Mackenzie Mastalarz and senior Alexis Casey had 14 and 11 digs, respectively, and two aces apiece. Brindl delivered 25 assists.
Leading Downers South under first-year coach Madisen Babich were four seniors -- Kayden Dempsey with eight kills and seven digs, Aleesa Andresen with 13 digs and two aces, Ariel Hoskin with nine assists and five digs and Jenna Majchrzak with three kills and five digs.
The Trojans lost their first two matches at Marian Catholic and St. Ignatius on back-to-back days with 90-degree heat. The Trojans won the first set in both.
"We potentially could be undefeated. I'm convinced we lost those matches sitting on the bus for an hour (in that heat)," Downers North coach Mark Wasik said.
"(Tonight) we had good balance. We return a lot of girls. They come back with that extra year of experience. And we filled some pieces with nice, athletic capable kids. They're just feeling their way in terms of playing varsity volleyball but they're doing a nice job."
Downers South trailed 12-4 in the second set but closed to 15-14 on Dempsey's ace. Then came Barton's quick-middle kill.
"She's not a club player so I've been working on a lot on basic fundamentals with her," Wasik said. "Every time I do it, you see the fruits of what you do because she's a good athlete and can respond easily."
Casey then served out the match with four of her nine points on Beacom kills. Casey ended the match with an ace.
"That one (run) definitely took some work, but it was good," said Casey, who served for 14 points. "I love the energy in the gym and my teammates always support me through everything so that's really what kept me going."
The first set was similar. Downers North led 9-5 but the Mustangs tied it at 13-13 and later closed from 21-16 to 21-19. After another quick-middle kill from Barton, Beacom served out the set with a back-row kill for set point.
"(Our players have) been progressing in a positive way each game, each match but we still have a lot of work to do," Babich said. "I hold my seniors with very high expectations. I truly believe they have the potential to do a lot of damage on the floor but we've got to clean up some pieces and find some consistency."
After the match, Dempsey celebrated her 17th birthday with teammates.
"We (seniors) just really want to build it back up and get a name for our program back again," Dempsey said. "I would say (Babich has contributed to) effort, harder practices, making sure every ball we touch has a purpose and that we always go after it. And making sure we're all together, too, as a team because that's really important."