MINOOKA – The Minooka and Lincoln-Way East girls volleyball teams were excited about starting a nonconference matchup of two of the better programs in the area.
Tuesday’s meeting in Minooka lived up to its billing as the two sides split nine-point decisions in the opening two sets before going back-and-forth in the finale.
The Indians began to pull away late and built two five-point leads and then held off rallies where the Griffins twice pulled within a point, as they prevailed by a 25-16, 16-25, 25-22 score to claim their seventh straight victory.
Despite Minooka (8-1) having lost only one match thus far and East (3-6) being under .500 in the early going, the disparity in records meant little.
The Griffins did a nice job of slowing down the Indians with their blocking, and the hosts compensated with a strong defensive effort that helped them to finally prevail.
“I always try to help my team out since their part of the game is to hit, and my part is to play defense,” said Minooka’s Nicole Kijowski, who had 16 digs. “If I don’t get those balls up, then I’m not giving them an opportunity to hit, so I try my hardest to give them that opportunity. We’ve been trying to focus on ourselves, so I think this is a great win because it builds our confidence. We’re really close, not only on the court, but also off of it. Whenever we’re struggling, we take a deep breath and calm down and just focus on the next play.”
In the finale, things were tight before the hosts gradually started to pull away, taking an 18-13 lead on an ace from Zoey Seput (28 assists) and a 20-15 advantage following a four-hit violation. But the Griffins used consecutive kills from Nicki Bechtold and Megan Walsh to close to within 20-19 and Molly Skoda (10 kills) got a kill to make it 21-20.
But the Indians responded with kills from Bella Alessio and Holly Kropke (six kills) and a wide hit to go up, 24-20. Following a kill from Jordan Lindsey (five blocks) and a block from Ali Sorenson (six blocks) to make it 24-22, the hosts wrapped things up when a serve sailed long.
“We’re always really focused on pushing for the next point and not worrying about the last one,” said Minooka’s Bella Alessio, who led her team with nine kills. “We pushed through the third game and made sure that we closed it out. Having a match go back-and-forth tells us that we have to go against adversity and push through, so we learned a lot from this one. We’re all emotionally invested in this season and no one’s talking about the past years. Yes, we lost people, but we have people who are back, and we’re here and ready to play.”
In the opener, coach Carrie Prosek’s Indians started to pull away midway through as they got two kills from Heidi Bonde (six kills), another from Kropke and a block from Hannah Justak (four solo blocks) to grab a 13-7 lead. An ace from Hannah Hugunin and another kill from Kropke made it 17-9. East closed to within 18-14 before the Minooka pulled away in the late going.
The second set was a different story, however. East used kills from Skoda and Jessica Pappas (eight kills) and a block from Walsh to take an 11-4 lead and gradually began to pull away. Down the stretch, Sorenson was in on two blocks, while Hannah Kowalczyk (14 assists) collected a kill to force the final set.
“I was really proud of our kids since we’ve shown some great improvement in the past couple of weeks,” Griffins coach Kris Fiore said. “Our record doesn’t show it, but we’ve played some terrific teams. We told our girls that we’re totally disregarding our record, because we’re getting better week by week. We really feel like we have a high ceiling with our team, and our girls have confidence, so they’re not worrying about their record now.
“In Game 2, we served a lot more aggressive and that allowed our blocking to get going and it caused them to struggle in serve-receive a little bit. And game three was just a real good battle between two teams. Our girls kept fighting and it was just a playoff-like match. We want to play the best, so we’re prepared to be at our best in the playoffs.”