By: Luke Drase
The halfway point of conference play marks one of the most interesting points of the season.
Seeding meetings are usually just around the corner, every team has played each other at least once, and a handful of teams started to separate themselves from the pack, making their case for why they should be conference champions.
With a thrilling 23-25, 25-18, 25-20 victory over Maine West, Highland Park has brought their conference record to an unblemished 5-0, giving them sole possession of first place in the CSL North.
“It feel great to be 5-0, I feel like we’re really coming together as a team,” said Highland Park junior Ireland Hieb.
“We have just bonded so well this year and it’s really fun to play with the rest of the girls.”
Set one saw Highland Park race out to a 10-4 advantage and force Maine West into taking a timeout. The Warriors were struggling in the front row, committing a multitude of hitting errors that helped pad the Highland Park lead.
Highland Park continued to hold onto a comfortable lead until Maine West sided out to make it a 17-13 game.
The Warriors needed a spark to get back into the set and Christy Kolosvary did just that. Coming off the bench and into the game cold, Kolosvary served six consecutive points to give Maine West a 19-17 advantage.
Maine West had plenty of opportunities to close out the set comfortably, but serving errors plagued the Warriors down the stretch.
Despite having six serving errors in set one, Maine West did manage to close out the set with a kill from Rilley Olson to take a nail-biter 25-13.
In a complete reversal of the opening frame, neither team was able to grab onto an early advantage in set two.
With the score knotted at 15, the Highland Park block stood tall as Ellie Sullivan had three stuff blocks within four points. Sullivan would finish the match with eight kills and five blocks.
Hieb added the Giant rally by serving three straight aces to give Highland Park a commanding 23-16 lead and would eventually take the set 25-18.
Hieb said: “I wasn’t really thinking too much about the serve, I just took a deep breath, took ‘a mental shimmy’ as coach says, and hammered it.”
Hieb continued to hammer away at the ball in the decisive third set. She along with Maine West’s Jessica Riedl could not be stopped in the final frame as both players exchanged kills ad nauseam.
With Maine West down 18-15 late in the set, Riedl kept the Warriors in the match with back to back kills to pull within one.
After a response by Hieb, Riedl sent another kill to the floor just two points later to make it 19-18, but that would be the last of her 15 kills of the night, as she was required to rotate to the back row.
Highland Park took advantage of the absence of Riedl. The Giants rattled off six of the last eight points, to take the final set 25-20.
The final run also included two more kills and a stuff block Hieb, who finished the night with eight kills, and three aces. Fellow junior outside hitter Olivia Carter also had eight kills and four aces on the night.
“I think really right now the energy and communication has improved. There’s a lot of positive energy on the court, not just from Ireland, but from all the players.” said Highland Park head coach Beth Peterson.
Early on, both her and Olivia when they would make a mistake they would really get down on themselves and just stop swinging, so we really worked on that.”
Despite the perfect start to conference play, Highland Park realizes there is still a long way to go before they can be crowned conference champions.
Both coach Peterson and Hieb said that the team still needs to work just as hard, if not harder during the second half of the conference season to continually improve their game if they want to compete for a conference title.
Highland Park will look to continue their unbeaten run in conference next Tuesday at GBN, a team they beat in three sets the first time around. Maine West will host Maine East for the District 207 championship.