Girls volleyball: Kaneland shakes off slow start
MacKenzie Ewen knew she had to get her serves in.
After a highly uncharacteristic first set loss, Ewen, Kaneland's senior libero, helped kick-start the Knights for a 9-0 run in the third set of Tuesday's Class 3A regional semifinal to pull away from Glenbard South 19-25, 25-11, 25-9.
"Honestly, it was my mental state ... my thought was basically this is our do-or-die," Ewen said. "If we lose, it's the end of our season. My brain kind of kicked in and basically overturned all of my emotions and I just kind of took it for myself and served."
The Knights (32-3) have a date with Interstate Eight Conference rival Sycamore, who defeated Fenton in two sets in Tuesday's other semifinal, to decide the regional title on Thursday. The Knights won both regular season matches with Sycamore.
Kaneland rebounded from 15 unforced errors in the first set, just one of the reasons for the Knights' slow start.
"I really think we came out and we were way too over confident," Ewen admitted. "We had been kind of talking it up all day and we really had to feel ourselves out almost because we weren't ready. We weren't ready mentally and I don't think we were ready physically, either, but I think the second and third sets, we really turned it around."
The Knights pulled within four or five points at a given moment in the first set, but Glenbard South's energy persisted the Raiders to the finish line.
After Kaneland's Meghan O'Sullivan's kill brought them within 21-19, the Raiders finished it off with a kill from Paige Stephenson, a Knights attack error, a block from Megan Daca and an ace from Samantha Lullo.
"I'm guessing it was nerves," Kaneland coach Cynthia Violett said. "It was not us at all. You're not going to win a set when you have 15 unforced errors. We just gave them 15 points for no reason at all, so hopefully, they got it out of their system."
The second and third sets evidently showcased that was the case, as the Knights cruised comfortably in both sets.
"That was about as well as we played all season," Raiders coach Chad Grant said. "Our kids just competed so [I'm] very proud of their effort tonight. Once our serve-receive started to break down a little bit in the second and third set, it's just difficult to match them offensively hitter for hitter. We're really just not equipped to swing against double blocks all night long, so they eventually just wore us down."
Glenbard South (12-24) was led by Brittany Miller's four kills and three aces.
Kaneland senior outside hitter Bella Rio rose to the occasion to pace the Knights with 13 kills. O'Sullivan had six kills, while Buckley had four.
"Bella really picked it up and started playing really well," Violett said.
"Thank God for Bella tonight. She really was the MVP tonight. Honestly, we had a lot of struggles on the outside tonight, and if it wasn't for her, I think we might've lost this game," Ewen said.
By Chris Casey
Maya Lopez's serving mentality is simple.
Get the ball over the net to help her team score points.
Lopez did just that Tuesday night as her St. Charles East girls volleyball team opened its postseason against Hampshire as part of the Class 4A St. Charles East regional semifinals.
After falling behind early in the second set, the sophomore defensive specialist Lopez served 11 straight points to rally the Saints past Hampshire, 25-12, 25-14, and into Thursday's regional championship match.
"I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team," said Lopez, who picked up her team-high three aces in her serve streak. "That's really all I was thinking about. I just want my team to have confidence in me serving and knew that we had a good chance to score points if I continued to get the ball over."
The Saints (19-17) trailed, 6-4, early after taking the first set rather handily. Junior libero Lia Schneider had a hustle play to save a ball that deflected high off of a basketball backboard, which set up a Kendra Dziubinski kill. This sent Lopez to the service line with her team down one.
Longtime Saints coach Jennie Kull knows how important keeping momentum is in volleyball, but especially in a postseason match when it's win or go home.
"We have been talking about making those runs all season and being confident in those situations," Kull said. "The girls did a really nice job and I feel like we've been seeing this group [play well] for the last stretch of the season. I think it was really telling of them to keep the momentum. It was a huge step for us tonight."
"Maya has really taken it upon herself to grow and get better [serving]. She wasn't the most consistent at the beginning of the year, but that's a tribute to her and her hard work."
St. Charles East finished the second set on a 21-6 run. Senior Isabella Mosquera led the way with four kills, while Schneider and Alexis Crossen each contributed four digs in the win.
Kull is also happy to have Schneider back after the junior has missed some time of late with back and leg injuries. Not only are the Saints more comfortable with their libero on the court, but they get their defensive sparkplug back at the perfect time.
"I felt like [the 12-point run] gave us the little energy boost we needed," Schneider said. "It's definitely nice to play with a lead and makes us relax that much more. I'm definitely excited to be back and be part of it. I honestly forget about the pain or injuries when I'm out there and just put it all on the line for my team."
For Hampshire and coach Will Benehaley, there were just too many mishaps on the defensive end. While he was happy with his team's defensive structure, the Whip-Purs (14-21) were unable to stop a run that eventually ended their season.
"It just came to us not keeping the ball in control," Benehaley said. "It was just mistake after mistake. I was trying to slow them down however I could, but they played a very strong game and we didn't."
Senior Jacey Lambert led the way for Hampshire with four kills and an ace.
St. Charles East will take on South Elgin (31-4) in search of the program's fourth straight regional title. The Saints handed South Elgin one of its four losses in a straight sets victory on Oct. 13.