JOLIET – Lincoln-Way West’s boys volleyball team entered this weekend’s Joliet West Tiger Challenge regarded as the second-best team in the state.
But after the Warriors went 3-0 in pool play and defeated Plainfield South in Saturday’s semifinals, they got a bit more than they bargained for in the tournament’s championship match against Riverside-Brookfield.
The Bulldogs led throughout most of the opening set, only to see West score the final seven points as it rallied for a 25-22 comeback victory. Then in the finale, the Warriors led by five points on several occasions in the late going, but R-B pulled to within 24-23 before the Warriors finally recorded a kill for the match’s final point to claim a 25-22, 25-23 victory.
West (6-0) was missing a pair of key returners who were out of town for one or both days in the 16-team competition, David Flores and Chris Dargan. While that could have been a good excuse for the Warriors’ close call, West coach Jodi Frigo preferred to give R-B much of the credit for its inspired play throughout the title match.
“They fought for every point and they were scrappy and aggressive, so if a team was caught on their heels, they could be in trouble,” Frigo said of R-B. “We have 11 seniors, so our camaraderie and leadership is very strong and every single one of those players if they went to another school could be a starter, so we have a lot of depth on the bench, and I definitely feel confident in our playing. They are best of friends and there’s a nice chemistry.”
The Bulldogs (5-1) led by as much as five points on several instances in the opening set and were still ahead 22-18 after a kill and two blocks from Colby Campbell (six blocks). However, West answered with a 7-0 burst that featured two aces by Ben Pluskota (11 kills), a kill from Nico Studer (10 kills, 10 digs) and a block from Jack Hrvatin.
“They were a great team and we didn’t really know anything about them,” Pluskota said. “We knew that they had two good outsides who were putting the ball, their setter was getting to the ball and their one middle was tearing us up, so credit to them since they played well, but we just kind of gave a little bit more at the end and pulled away. In the second set, Ty (Tyler Holubek), our backup setter, came in clutch and did a great job and played well for us.”
In the final set, the Warriors used a 5-0 run with Studer at the service line to go up 19-15. He served an ace and had a kill, and Pluskota also added a kill in that span. They got their final two points in the match on two more kills by Studer. Other leaders for West were Tyler Holubek (27 assists), Tyler Vedder (12 digs) and Louden Moran (four kills).
The Warriors expect to have their full lineup back next weekend when they compete in the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic.
“That was definitely a great team that we were facing, much better than we thought,” Studer said. “But we knew that we’d have competition in the title game and we played as a team. Coach tells us each day that we have such depth on this team, it’s amazing. We’re all close and live by each other in the same area. I’m proud of where I’m at in my position, but I would not be where I’m at without the guys on this team, where you need everybody.”
Plainfield South also went 3-0 in pool play to advance to the Gold Division Championship round. After falling, 25-11, 25-13, in the semifinals to West, the Cougars met Edwardsviile in for third-place match and lost, 25-18, 25-13.
Bolingbrook and Joliet Catholic Academy were second in their pools and moved on to the Silver Division Championship Round. The Raiders (3-3) won a three-way tiebreaker involving 1-2 teams in pool play to determine the second-place team and beat the Hilltoppers in that division’s semifinals before falling, 25-18, 26-24, to Stevenson.