JOLIET – Joliet West's boys volleyball team went with a different approach in Wednesday's Southwest Prairie Conference match against Plainfield Central.
Tigers coach Neil Lucchetti told his squad to play loose and that paid off with a first-set win. But by the time that the Southwest Prairie Conference match was over, it was the Wildcats who were feeling upbeat as they rallied for a 19-25, 25-18, 25-16 victory on the west side.
[Plainfield Central's Noah Sampson returns a serve. | Photos by Larry W. Kane for Shaw Media]
"It's exciting," Wildcats coach BJ Boldog said. "We have an entirely new group of varsity starters so we're finally getting used to playing together. We're finding a little rhythm and chemistry and it's showing on the court with our play. Noah Sampson and Marc Arsenault are really doing a lot of things offensively and Jack Buczek in the middle was 7 for 9 tonight, so that helps. Our seniors are are doing really well and our juniors are learning the game.
"I'm excited to see us continue to get better because we still have a long ways to go. We're getting better every single day and that's fun and we'll get of how we're playing this weekend at Downers Grove South, which is going to be a really competitive tournament."
[Plainfield Central's Jack Buczek spikes the ball past Joliet West’s (4) Zach Boeringa and Kalvin Fellows.]
While Central (7-5, 4-2) is off to a better start than many anticipated under the direction of the former Lewis All-American, West (6-10, 1-5) has dropped several close matches.
"Our message in the locker room was to come out loose and have some fun and then we won the first set," Lucchetti said. "But they're a competitive team and every night it's dog eat dog world. Right now we're taking our lumps so we're just trying to find a way to make some plays. We're a talented bunch, it's just that we haven't found that final piece yet to put teams away. Other than against Plainfield East, when competed back and forth in the first set, every other game that we've lost in conference has gone three and they've been close.
[Joliet West's Kalvin Fellows sets.]
"I know that we're hungry to win, it's just that we have to find a way to finally do it. Our big Achilles's heel this year is that we've made a lot of errors and that's hurt us. We're in all of these games and the scores are close, but because we've made a few errors here and there, it goes the other way. We're a talented team to be much better, but we just haven't finished."
[Plainfield Central's Jack Buczek flips the ball over the net.]
In the finale, the Wildcats (7-5, 4-2) used a kill from Marc Arsenault and a block from Jack Buczek to build up a 14-7 lead. The Tigers (6-10, 1-5) closed the gap to 15-11 with an ace from Ian Van Eck but Central responded to the threat and opened it up once more, finally wrapping things up with an ace from Harinder Khaira and two kills from Arsenault.
[Plainfield Central's Albion Salihu returns a serve.]
"It was a tough fight and luckily we pulled through and we all played well," Buczek said. "I'm really excited about things. We have a new coach and he knows what he's talking about so it's nice to have someone who can give us advice and really mold us into better players. All of us on the team are close friends and when we play as a team, we do really well since we trust each other to make the players. We just need to keep our heads up when we get down."
[Joliet West's Danny Drag returns a serve.]
Up 1-0, the Tigers started fast in the second set by starting out 4-0 and going up 7-3 as Zach Boeringa (five kills) supplied a kill and an ace. But the Wildcats used a pair of kills from Noah Sampson to move ahead at 11-8 and gradually increased their lead until it took its biggest edge on the final points, which came following consecutive kills from Buczek.
[Plainfield Central's Jacob Kelly sets.]
"In the first couple of games, we weren't really as a team," Sampson said. "But now we're playing as a team and are doing really well against top teams in the conference. We play so well as a team and we're good friends off the court, too, so that really helps since we have good chemistry, and that's really important in volleyball since it's such a team sport."
[Plainfield Central's Harry Khaira sets.] [Plainfield Central's Finnegan McCue returns a serve.]
Things went back-and-forth in the opener before West began to pull away with a 5-0 run that started with a kill by Kalvin Fellows (23 assists, four kills), who then served an ace and was supported by kills from Boeringa and Edge Austin (seven kills) to make it 19-14. The Wildcats closed to within 19-17 before Van Eck got two blocks and Boeringa got a kill and Jordan McDonnell served an ace to wrap up the first-set win.
[Joliet West's Kalvin Fellows returns a serve.]
"A huge thing for us is that we've been really pushing during that first game but we just have to keep on pushing throughout the rest of the match," Boeringa said. "As we start doing that, then we can be a successful team. I think what's really pushing us is our desire to be the best that we can be. We all have the desire and want to win, we just have to do it as 13 players and as a unit. That's what's going to make the difference and we'll start winning."
[Plainfield Central's Harry Khaira sets.]
While West has displayed encouraging signs, it hopes to put it all together before too long.
"We just have to push ourselves since I know that we can do," Austin said. "Once we get down by a couple of points, we start digging ourselves into a hole. We're all friends so we just have to bring each other up. It's really just a matter of us pushing ourselves. We're so focused on winning that once we make a mistake, we think it's all over with, and it's not."