PLAINFIELD – Minooka boys volleyball coach Mike Kargle knew all to well that his state-ranked Indians would be in for a tough battle against coach Alex Rodriguez’s Plainfield East team in Thursday’s Southwest Prairie Conference match.
The Indians coach was spot on as his team needed to rely on strong finishes late in each set to capture a 25-20, 25-23 victory and improve to 15-5 overall and 4-0 in the SPC. Minooka, Lincoln-Way West, Plainfield East and Providence Catholic are favorites in the sub-sectional of the Belleville East Sectional, with seeds coming out in early May.
Minooka finished fourth in 2010 and 2012 after losing to the eventual runner-up in the semifinals and losing in three sets to eventual runner-up Lincoln-Way North in the quarterfinals in 2013 with Kargle assisting head coach Janel Grzetich.
“We’ve always stressed to look up to guys from the past and learn from them, but also mark your own,” Kargle said. “And here we are, and these guys have set out to make their own path. They appreciate everything that people before accomplished, and they’re very savvy from the point of the history of the program, and a lot of the guys are into that.
“At this time of the year you can’t overlook anyone in this conference, since someone is always looking to come out and sneak up on you. So once you get in their gym, all records are off and everybody has a target on their backs because everyone’s vying for conference.”
Leading the way for the Indians were AJ Lewis (13 kills, two blocks), Evan Faifer (10 kills), Rafael Vieyra (16 assists), Mack Tyrell (14 assists), Shane Ooms (three blocks), Noah Easter (three blocks) and Caden Ritchey (six digs).
Minooka’s players generally come from UNO and Club 1, while the Bengals have a lot of individuals from Club 1, so the athletes are longtime friends and good opponents.
“The biggest thing for us is the success that we had earlier in the season,” Lewis said. “We put a big target on our backs, so it’s important to us to grow and be better than the score suggests. We’ve played them quite often since our team mainly is made up of UNO and Club 1 kids. I’m very happy to be on this, and I feel blessed.”
With the Indians regularly utilizing a two-setter formation with Tyrell and Vieyra, myriad hitting options are regularly available, and that makes them a tough team to stop.
“Having two setters makes our team more versatile, and it catches the other team off guard,” Tyrell said. “It’s always fun to play against East. I like our teamwork and our will to win since all of us bought into working with our brothers.”
The Bengals (14-8, 2-2) were paced in kills by Preston Bright and Matt Tria, in assists by Jake Simpson and in digs by Joshua Tagtmeyer. East lost a three-set match in last year’s Minooka Sectional semifinals to Lincoln-Way West.
“Both teams were kind of just waiting for something,” Rodriguez said. “Minooka is ranked as one of the top teams in the state and have played well against the best teams. It’s good to see this happen. I wouldn’t count anyone out in the sectional.”