LOCKPORT – The boys volleyball teams from Lockport and Lincoln-Way Central not only look to challenge for the title in the SouthWest Suburban Conference, but also figure to be in the mix as their subsectional’s top team, who will play in the Edwardsville Sectional finals.
So that’s why Thursday’s meeting between the Porters and Knights in both teams’ SWSC openers took on extra significance, and as one might expect of such a clash, the final outcome wasn’t determined until both sides had taken matters to the wire.
Lockport saw a big early lead slip away in an opening loss, but won fairly easily in the middle set and then pulled out a nail-biter in the finale to rally for a, 23-25, 25-18, 25-23, home victory.
The Porters (22-1, 1-0), who won 24 matches a year ago, now have won 20 in a row this season since suffering their only defeat March 25 to Downers Grove North in the Marist Invite. Central (15-3, 0-1) saw its nine-match winning streak come to a halt.
“One thing that this group definitely is is resilient,” Porters coach Nick Mraz said. “We’ve been in so many three-set matches and a couple now where we lost the first set, but we’ve never put our heads down, and that’s something that’s unique about this team. Lincoln-Way Central is probably the best team that we’ve played, so we knew that it would be tough.
“In the third set, there were two big blocks at the end, and we just happened to make those plays, so it really could have gone either way. Conference is important, but the guys know who’s in the sectional, and it’s so competitive, so to get a win like that is absolutely huge. You want to do what you can to be ready for it, and challenging matches like this are going to help our guys know how to react in the playoffs.”
Neither side led by more than two points in the final set, and throughout most of it, things were either tied or one team owned just a one-point advantage.
Central took its last lead at 18-17 on an ace by Jack Yurkanin (13 kills), but a kill and block by Justin Elliott (nine kills, two blocks) and a kill by Anthony Pfeiffer (10 kills, 15 assists) helped the hosts take a 24-22 lead and after Yurkanin got another kill, Pfeiffer closed out the match with a final kill.
“I’m very proud of my team’s winning streak but I think that we still have a lot more to show and to prove since this is just the start of it,” Pfeiffer said. “We were really excited about the first game in conference, but we let the game go with our serve-receive in the beginning but our serve-receive came back 100 percent and allowed us to win. Coach wanted us to be able to adjust to what they were doing and that’s what we did and how we got the win.”
In the middle set, Central took a 13-12 lead on a kill by Yurkanin but the Porters responded with a 5-0 spurt featuring kills from Elliott and Pfeiffer to go up 17-13 and the visitors were unable to get any closer than three points back after that as Kyle Dixon (five kills), Elliott and Matt Dalton delivered key kills down the stretch.
“This is very exciting since our team has come together really well,” Dalton said. “Having all of those players that played last year coming back and having experience at the varsity level mixed with the new people that we have has created a great environment to be in. Our team bonds really well and that’s but keeps it fun. Our energy is what’s going to keep us going and I think our bond is what’s going to keep us pushing forward this year.”
Lockport jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead in the initial set but the Knights answered with a 10-0 run with Mason Davis (nine kills) serving up nine-straight points while Joe Claffy and Yurkanin each supplied two kills. The Porters pulled to within 15-14 on a kill by Patrick Surane and to 23-22 and 24-23 on kills by Dalton and Elliott before Yurkanin got a final kill.
The Porters also received 18 assists from Dan Provenzano, six kills from Noah Speechley and 15 digs from Tim Behland while the Knights also got 28 assists from Andy Stevens and five kills from Willy Kickert.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Knights coach Mary Brown said. “I was a little disappointed with our serve-receive. Our blocking, which normally is a strength, really was not on for us and we just didn’t put it away, we gave them too many chances.
“They’re a good team and I can’t take anything away from them, but we didn’t play our best and we just didn’t come out and play a quick game. I’m very happy with how our boys have done so far, but when you know you could have done things better, it’s a little disappointing.”