JOLIET – With a team featuring eight seniors, several of whom have played together at the high school and club levels for many years, Plainfield South’s boys volleyball team has good reason to be optimistic about having a special year.
A good early-season indication of where the Cougars stand came Thursday when they hosted a Minooka program that has not only regularly contended for the Southwest Prairie Conference championship, but has won it, and also advanced to state three times since 2010.
While South coach Taryn Surbaugh knows that the Indians are young this season because of the graduation of a talented class, she emphasized to her team to not take them lightly.
Fortunately, the Cougars followed her advice and stepped up when they were challenged, moving on to capture a 25-19, 25-20 victory over their Ridge Road rivals.
“Last year our only two losses in conference were to Minooka, so it’s definitely a program that you don’t ever want to take lightly,” Surbaugh said. “Our guys want to work on how the team feels to them this year, and I told them to not work on feels, let’s get in systems and play ball, no matter who we’re playing. And especially since it was Minooka, because I told them that if we gave them an opportunity, they were going to take it from us.
“I’m really interested in trying to develop our players who are a little bit behind the scenes. Guys like Logan Nash and Brandon Langys are going to do their jobs, and we expect them to, but there’s a couple of others on the team who could be really good. Those guys matter because if we can’t get them on board, then your stars can’t do anything. I’m looking forward to see how they round themselves into players so we look more like a complete team.”
The score was tied at 14-14 in the opening set when South (6-1, 2-0) used a 5-0 run to take control for good. Eddie Jakubauskas (three kills, four digs) got a kill before Matt Friddle (five blocks, 12 assists, three aces) added a block and a kill to give the Cougars a five-point lead, and the Indians (2-5, 1-1) never got any closer than three points.
Minooka owned several leads during the opening stages of the last set before the Cougars started to pull away to lead by as much as 19-15. But the Indians responded with a 4-0 run with Noah Easter supplying a block and a kill to create a 19-19 tie. After a kill by Grant Ooms (five kills) tied the score at 20-20, the hosts scored the final five points to wrap up the win. Friddle had two aces, and Logan Nash had two kills during that closing run.
Other Cougars leaders were Andrew Colantone (10 assists, two blocks, five kills), Brandon Langys (seven digs), Mykkel Wilke (two blocks) and Mark Guzman (three blocks).
“This is our first win over them in a long time,” Colantone said. “We have a lot of guys who’ve been together for awhile and our team has a strong base, where everything that we know is strong. We’re strong at every position and knows what they’re doing and we don’t have any newbies, and that always helps. We’re all friends outside of school, hang out and know each other well. We have big plans and I hope that we make some serious moves this year.”
The Cougars are hopeful that their combination of talented players with experience and their close bond pays off by helping them to produce the best season in the program’s history.
“We’re all pretty knowledgeable in our positions and this is a team full of leaders who know each others weaknesses and strengths so we can pick each other up,” Wilke said. “The chemistry is crazy on this team. Since we’ve been around since the seventh grade, we have that bond that you don’t see often. We want to be up on the wall as conference champs. Communication will be huge and the leadership that we have in different ways will pay off.”
Other top performers for Minooka included Alginon Lewis (seven kills), Matt Kurtz (18 assists) and libero Jack Bauer, who was credited by coach Mike Kargle with one of his best performances during his three years on the varsity. Kargle, the Indians longtime assistant, takes over head coaching duties from Janel Grzetich, who now serves as his assistant.
“We’re a young team, not that that’s an excuse,” Kargle said. “We’ve got guys that have the skill set and I think a big portion of it will be getting used to the speed of the varsity level game. We’ve made some huge improvements already this year and there’s really no where to go but up from here. South has a couple of really good players and they’ve been around together and taken their lumps and now they’re ready to dish them out.
“These guys are probably harder on themselves than what we could be as coaches. They know the history of the program, they’ve talked to guys and have seen the trophy cases so they know what’s going on and who doesn’t want to be a part of that. They don’t want to be the squad that just showed up, they want to be a squad that put their names on something.”