Boys volleyball: Conant shakes off slow start, tops Larkin
Dhru Patel began his Conant boys volleyball career on the freshman team with Drewann Pancratz as the head coach.
The Cougars senior setter is now finishing his career with Pancratz as his head coach on the Cougars varsity team as she took over the program just this season.
"It's pretty cool," said Patel, who plans to study finance at the University of Illinois. "She is an amazing, talented coach. My first year, I had her as a coach and now I get to end my career with her as well."
Patel hopes the ending is the same way the Cougars have started the spring: in strong fashion.
After Patel collected his 17th assist following senior Nic Breiter's fifth kill, the Cougars wrapped up a 25-21, 25-9 nonconference triumph over visiting Larkin on Monday night and raised their record to 15-3.
"We've started out playing strong in conference (4-1 in the Mid-Suburban West) and in tournaments," Patel said. "The coaching and players are coming together and we've been able to put together a good record."
The Cougars' offense put together a good match, getting 8 kills from sophomore Michael Recko along with 5 from Jacob Pietraszek and 2 apiece from Nick Gutka and Patel.
Breiter and Dilan Patel each had 9 digs.
The Cougars built an 11-5 lead with seven straight service points from Pietraszek but Larkin (2-8) charged back with an 11-3 run and led 16-14 following a kill by senior Garrett Leaver and block by classmate Matheu Preuss.
"We had to make a last-minute change in our lineup and I felt Matheu stepped up for us serving," said Larkin seventh-year coach Katie Smiley, who like Pancratz is a Carthage College graduate. "So I am really proud of him. And when Josh James-Givens (senior) steps on the court, he has a positive attitude and always keeps his head up and that helps us every single game. Garrett Leaver is always a strong leader and I look to him for guidance and leadership because he adjusts well to things. He's hoping to play in college. He's a great captain and great team player."
At 13-13 in Set 1, Pancratz called a timeout and the Cougars got back on track to close out the set with an 11-5 run.
"We just didn't start with a lot of energy," Dhru Patel said. "But once coach called a timeout, she settled us down and we came back more energized and fixed things up."
The Cougars were rolling in the second set, getting four straight service points from Dhru Patel for a quick lead and extending it to 12-1 before a kill from Larkin's Ricky Jimenez.
A kill by Jayden Dimiceli got Larkin to within 23-9 before the match ended with a service error and Breiter's kill.
"We started out with a lot of unforced errors and I told the boys that we had to come ready to play," Pancratz said. "We had a good talk about our seniors showing some leadership and putting the ball away.
"Jacob Pietraszek came on well and we started utilizing our middles better. We cleaned up things a bit and Dhru started making good decisions with the ball. His senior leadership showed toward the end of the match. We have a good group of boys. We just have to stay focused. We can't get complacent. We have to keep pushing."
Smiley said the Royals have had some struggles with their roster and commitments this spring but the team is finally coming together.
"We had four good practices in a row," she said. "We're finally getting there. It's just been a little tough but I know we can do it. When we got that lead in the first set, they said 'oh man, we can do this' and I think they got a little too relaxed. They (Conant) began setting their middles a lot and that's where we struggle with some issues. But we're getting there."