Boys volleyball: Downers Grove South finishes strong, tops Libertyville for 3rd in state
For Downers Grove South senior outside hitter Matt Molnar, the start of Saturday's third-place match at the boys volleyball state tournament at Hoffman Estates was a bit wobbly.
"We seemed to be groggy," the 6-foot-7 force said.
"But then, in time, we realized the importance of the match and played much better."
Wobbly turned into stable. DGS defeated tourney upstart and first-time finals qualifier Libertyville 25-22, 23-25, 25-20 to take the bronze and earn the program's second state trophy.
McKendree University-bound Molnar pummeled a match-high 17 kills, while hitting at a .429 clip, several hours after the Mustangs searched in vain for a shred of rhythm in a 25-17, 25-16 semifinal loss to eventual state runner-up Lincoln-Way East.
"Much better," said Mustangs coach Kurt Steuer, who guided DGS to the state championship in 2013. "Not as flat as we were in our semifinal. I'm proud of the way we handled the third set.
"What an accomplishment," he added. "To finish in third place in Illinois, with teams as competitive as they are in this state, I'll take it."
The Mustangs (35-6) took an 8-7, first-set lead on a kill by senior outside hitter Ryan Blazevich in a back-and-forth start. Neither squad enjoyed an advantage better than two points in the set until the final point -- an ace delivered by junior middle Mason Kolar (5 kills, 3 blocks).
Libertyville (22-15) stretched its lead to 16-8 in the second set on a block by 6-8 senior middle Chase Bonder (5 kills, 3 blocks). DGS battled and knotted matters at 21 and at 22, before Libertyville got a kill from senior OH Patrick Akers (8 kills) to go up 23-22.
Wildcats junior setter Luis Correa (15 assists) picked a fine time to go in attack mode, notching his only kill to clinch the second set.
Molnar came up huge late in the third stanza, registering 3 kills in a four-point span. His final kill in the stretch secured a 19-16 lead for DGS.
"He's special, right up there (among the all-time greats at Downers Grove South)," Steuer said of Molnar.
Mustangs Nick Koch (18 assists) and Colin Mason (14) shared setting duties. Max Barbeau paced the victors in digs (10), while 6-2 senior middle Declan Mulcahey and classmate Alex Johnson popped for 3 blocks apiece.
Johnson and Brannen Almarales each had five kills.
Libertyville got 9 kills from Oliver Sikora and 8 from Patrick Akers. Aleks Slesers struck 5 kills and bumped a team-high 9 digs. Six-7 senior middle Mack Imm was a nuisance near the net, with 5 blocks.
Libertyville bowed to eventual champion Glenbard West 25-21, 25-13 in the first semifinal Saturday morning.
"They were outstanding," GBW coach Christine Giunta-Mayer said of the Wildcats, who lost six of eight matches late in the season before peaking in a memorable postseason run. "We knew they would be. That's a team we saw earlier this season and thought, 'They're coming ... that's a sleeping giant.'
"It was only a matter of time," she added.
"Libertyville has really good chemistry," GBW setter Trevor Powell said. "Super positive, too. If anyone made a mistake, he shrugged it off."