PLAINFIELD – Four girls volleyball teams entered Thursday’s play with one loss in the Southwest Prairie Conference, making any head-to-head matches between them very important.
In a clash of Tigers meeting at Plainfield North on its senior night, North took control early in the first set against Joliet West and used a strong finish in the second set to capture a 25-14, 25-17 victory, improving the hosts to 24-3 overall and 8-1 in SPC play.
North, which honored eight seniors, has won eight straight matches in conference play since suffering its lone loss in its SPC opener against Minooka Sept. 5. Joliet West dropped to 20-5 overall and 7-2 in the SPC. Minooka moved to 8-1 with a win over Romeoville, and West Aurora entered the night with only one SPC loss.
North, which has only lost to Minooka and Marist, got solid play from seniors Anna Gawron (21 assists), Ali Jansen (three kills, two blocks), Gretchen Ketelhut (four kills, five blocks), Mekenzie Smith (10 digs) and Lily Summers (four kills, six digs), while sophomore Ella Wrobel led the team with six kills.
“I was very happy to see all of the seniors step up,” North coach Matt Slechta said. “They stepped up to the moment, so that was fun to see. I think the schedule that we’ve had throughout the year has helped us to prepare. We had two or three weeks where we didn’t have a ton of matches, but now we’ll be playing a ton in the next two weeks. We’re just taking everything one game at a time.”
In the first set, North started to open up the match with senior Alaina Que behind the service line. A block from Ketelhut and kills from Wrobel and Summers helped it build a 12-4 lead, and West never was able to get any closer than seven points after that.
“It was a lot of fun since we had a big crowd that was supporting us,” Ketelhut said. “Last time we had a crowd we were sort of frazzled, so we came back stronger, and we knew that we had to stay relaxed. Everyone really worked well to keep our tempo where it should be. We really know what the teams that we’re playing are doing, and we’ll be prepared.”
West jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set with Ashley Shawmeker at the service line. Shawmeker later had a kill, a block and an ace to help them remain close. Natalie Stefanski got a kill and an ace to give West a 14-13 lead, followed by a kill by Alexis Mines, but Plainfield North took over after that.
“We had a lot of new people who also stepped up, and it was nice to see them show what they can bring to the team,” Gawron said. “Everyone on the court really pushed our tempo. We all bond really well on the court, and that helps us get the points that we need and to adjust to the block on the other side.”
North took 11 of the final 13 points with Ketelhut adding three more blocks, Wrobel getting two kills and senior Emilie Kulak scoring points at the service line to end the match.
“They’re good,” West coach Al Mart said. “They’re talented and big, and when they play that well, you can see why they’re ranked in the top three in the state. They played very well and dominated us in Game 1. We pretty much did not handle the pressure, excitement and the atmosphere, and North embraced it. I thought in Game 2 we played better.”