PLAINFIELD – Joliet West’s girls volleyball team entered Thursday’s Southwest Prairie Conference match at Plainfield Central as the underdog.
After all, the Wildcats had been highly ranked throughout the season and drew the No. 3 seed in the Class 4A Plainfield North Sectional, while the Tigers were the No. 14 seed in that same tournament.
Central had won all six of its conference matches, and West entered with a 5-1 mark in SPC matches, but none of the rankings or records meant very much on this evening.
The Tigers used a late 8-1 burst to pull out a win in the first set and then closed out the second set with another 5-1 run to rally for a 25-20, 26-24 victory that ties the teams for the top spot in the SPC with two matches remaining for each team.
“It’s a good win, and I’m extremely happy for my girls,” Tigers coach Al Mart said. “It’s one of those nights where I think we caught them probably not playing at their best, but that happens to all of us, so I’m not going to take anything from my girls since I thought we played hard and were down, 20-17, in Game 2 and then came back. You see them against Minooka, and it’s back and forth. So whether we caught them on an off night or not, I’ll take it.
“We had some different kids who stepped up, and we’re finally healthy, so this is the first time that we’ve gone with a lineup that we haven’t used since the Labor Day tournament. We knew we were going to face big hitters, but we said let’s see what happens. We got a lot of contributions from a lot of kids, and it’s a stepping stone for us.”
In the second set, the Wildcats (21-6, 6-1) used kills from Kerrigan Candra (six kills) and Taylor Landfair (18 kills, five digs) to take a 20-17 lead, but the Tigers (18-7, 6-1) tied it at 21 after a kill from Natalie Stefanski (13 kills, seven digs, two aces) and an ace from Ashley Shawmeker. Then the Wildcats were able to pull ahead, 24-23.
But West evened the score on a net violation, moved in front for good on a block by Felicity Jones (four blocks) and wrapped up the victory with an ace from Stefanski. Another leader for the Tigers was Britney Drysch (15 assists, three aces, six digs).
“The important thing was that we came into this game and knew that the pressure wasn’t on us; it was on them, and we really used that since we were able to play really loose and comfortable and had a lot of energy,” Drysch said. “I like our improvement just in the past couple of weeks and how our practices have been so much more focused. We got contributions from everyone on the team, and that’s what really helped us out.”
In the opener, the Wildcats were coasting along after going up, 13-9, after kills from Landfair and Regan Trueblood (five kills), but West battled back to tie it at 16 after an ace from Brooke Borgra and them moved in front for good with a 5-0 run to make it 22-19 after Stefanski recorded three kills, and Sam Fair served up four points.
The Tigers completed their 8-1 spurt to close out the first set as Jones and Stefanski combined on a block, and later, Drysch recorded that set’s final point with an ace. The Wildcats also received 15 digs from Katie Shook.
“We had a lot of desire, and we were very passionate about winning this game,” Tigers senior Emma Baxter said. “We didn’t care about how big the crowd was or the fact that they were undefeated in conference, since we want the championship just as much as them. That was a good team win because we all wanted to win and showed it by passing, making plays and putting the ball away and making them make the errors.”
Although disappointed that his team suffered its first conference defeat, Wildcats coach Erik Vogt credited the Tigers for turning in a good performance against them.
“Joliet West played really well against us,” Vogt said. “Their ball control was really good and No. 14 (Stefanski) hit really well. We didn’t block or defend well, and down the stretch in the second set, we let up too many points. They played well, but we were also a little bit distracted today; not that that’s an excuse. We just made way too many errors, including five serving errors in the second set. It’s unfortunate, but in the long run, this may be good for us.”