FRANKFORT – Lincoln-Way East boys volleyball coach Kris Fiore reminded his team about one of the things they were playing for in Tuesday’s SouthWest Suburban Conference first-place showdown against rival Lincoln-Way West.
They were trying to continue their 34-match SWSC winning streak intact since last losing to Lockport in April 2015. The Griffins had won 68 of their last 69 games in conference play and captured the league championship each season since 2011.
The Warriors looked like they might spoil the party after claiming a 25-22 win in the opener, but East bounced back by winning 25-19 in the second set and 25-23 in the finale to clinch at least a share of the league title heading into Thursday’s final match at Sandburg.
“It was a conference game, so it was huge,” Fiore said. “We were preaching to our kids that we had a 34-game conference win streak going in, and had won the conference title I don’t know how many years in a row, so it was really important for us to get this. We talked to our kids about overcoming inconsistency. I’m glad that we stuck it out and continued to play hard and kind of gut through it and came out with the win. We got on our guys to pick up the back row defense, and we did in game three, and picked up our net presence in game three.”
In the final set, the Warriors (25-8, 6-1) took a 21-20 lead following a kill by Brandyn Cullen (11 kills) and two hitting errors but the Griffins (31-3, 7-0) responded with a kill from Mike Herlihy (nine kills, three blocks) and a block from Wil McPhillips (eight kills, five blocks) put the hosts back on top.
Ben Pluskota (12 kills, 12 digs) tied it at 22 with a kill but McPhillips got another block to put East back in front. After a wide hit, the Warriors got a kill by Pluskota, but Ian Piet ended the drama with a kill (seven kills).
“It was great to play those guys, since a lot of them are on my club team,” McPhillips said. “It was a big game, since it was a conference game, and I’m happy that we played them. We were able to come through at the end and clean things up, so it as a good game. I was originally playing middle and just got moved to rightside, and I’m still figuring out the blocking, but I thought that we did a good job with our blocking and shutting them down.”
The Griffins started to pull away midway through the middle set, with a key run featuring two kills from Piet and another from Luis Zavala (three blocks) giving them a 14-10 lead. Another 6-1 outburst made it 20-12 to basically ensure another set.
“Their defense has really picked up, and they play good defense in the back row and have the ability to pass,” Herlihy said. “And that’s kind of what we were shaky on today, was our passing, so if we can work on that, we’ll be a lot better. Our block on our team is a key, and if we can do that down the road, we’ll be set. We all play really well and are just a fun group to be around, and our chemistry is really good.”
The key stretch in the opener came with Pluskota serving up five points, that included four kills from Cullen, to give West a 20-17 lead.
Other West leaders were David Flores (29 assists), Louden Moran (seven kills) and Tyler Vedder (13 digs). Other East leaders were Brent O’Donnell (19 assists), Jeremy Walsh (13 assists) and Blake Boykin (eight digs).
“These guys all play together and are friends,” West coach Jodi Frigo said. “So it’s a fun match between crosstown rivals. We were both undefeated, so we were looking for that conference win. But I’m more worried about about being ready and playing at that high level come postseason and making fewer errors, and we did that.”