LOCKPORT – When a boys volleyball team is missing its two top outside hitters and runs into a squad that is red-hot, it usually is a bad combination.
But that’s what took place Tuesday when Lincoln-Way Central hoped to pull a surprise against a Lockport team that entered with an 11-match winning streak.
Although the Knights were able to hang tough despite not having Jack Yurkanin and Garrett McCrea available, the host Porters had too much firepower and went on the claim a 25-19, 25-16 victory in their SouthWest Suburban Conference opener.
Lockport coach Nick Mraz was pleased not only by his team’s perfect mark in April, but also by the many contributions that the Porters (17-6, 1-0) got in their first of three matches over eight days against the Lincoln-Way schools. It also served as a little revenge since Central ended the Porters’ season a year ago in the regional finals.
Patrick Surane (eight kills), Jake Whyte (seven kills), Kyle Dixon (seven kills, block), Jacob Prince (13 assists, six digs), Anthony Pfeiffer (five kills, 10 digs) and Alex Matteucci (nine digs) led the way against the Knights (13-10, 1-1), who didn’t have Yurkanin or McCrea available because of either sickness or injury.
“We said that the guys who returned owed it to other ones,” Mraz said. “We needed it for conference, but it also gave us a little bit of revenge for the way they took us out last year. So we worked hard in practice the last three days, and this is one that everyone wanted. We used March to try to figure some things out and used about seven different lineups. Since the calendar turned, we’ve won 12 in a row by just figuring things out.
“It was a little sloppy and we’re seeing miscommunication out there, but that’s stuff that we will fix come playoffs. It was tough for Mary (Brown) since they were down a couple of guys, but it’s still Lincoln-Way and they have a lot of talent over there and they want to win as bad as us, and it was a conference match. We really wanted to focus on running our middles tonight since we’re a pin-heavy team. The pieces are in place, it’s just getting together, communicating and working as a unit.”
The Knights closed to within 13-11 in the opener before Pfeiffer got a kill to start a 5-0 spurt that saw Matteucci serve four points, including an ace, which also featured kills from Whyte and Pfeiffer to give the hosts an 18-11 lead. Central hung tough, but the hosts ended the drama with kills from Jake Maly and Pfeiffer.
“We’ve been working a lot in practice setting the middles because if they set us, it opens up the pin hitters and helps the whole team by opening everything up,” Whyte said. “Beating Lincoln-Way teams helps all around since they’re known for being very good, so it’s good to show that we can compete with them. We have four seniors but also a lot of young talent, and they’ve helped with the team chemistry.”
In the second set, the Porters pulled away by getting two kills from Whyte and another from Surane to grab a 10-5 lead. The Knights closed to within three points on several occasions before the hosts scored the last five points. Dixon had a kill and shared a block with Maly, who had another block during a service run by Prince.
“Coach told us a little bit ago that we needed to win our next 10 games since we were going to need that momentum going into conference since we were starting off with a few of the tough teams,” Dixon said. “We’re definitely coming together as a team, and that’s always good to see, since it will help in the postseason. We’re solid all around, but we still have things to work on. It’s coming together and is a lot better than when we started. Having only four varsity players from last year is a challenge, but I like our team’s unity.”
Leading the Knights were Joe Claffy (five kills, block), Aidan Heniff (three kills, four digs), Aidan McGuire (eight assists) and Sebastian Olmos (eight digs).
“We definitely missed our two outsides, but it was kind of a prelude for next year because juniors went out there and did some nice things but lacked some of the confidence they need,” Central coach Mary Brown said. “Although we could have done some things better, I was proud of them since they didn’t give up. Lockport has some good hitters and they were smart, but I felt like it never got out of control against some of their better players. I’m hoping that by playoff time that everything will be all ironed out and it comes together.”