By: Luke Drase
Niles West overcame a shaky start to defeat Evanston 25-23, 25-18 to move to 7-1 in conference and 23-5 overall.
Whether it was the cold gym, or the long layoff between conference matches, both teams started out set one slightly sluggish.
Early errors from Evanston and Niles West eliminated any flow to the early portion of the match.
After the set was tied at 10, Niles West started to find an offensive rhythm through junior outside hitter Natalia Pehar.
Multiple kills by Pehar, and an ace from setter Michelle Choy saw the Wolves start to pull away and take an 18-13 lead.
Despite losing their way through the middle portion of the set, Evanston bounced right back. The Wildkits pulled within three points at 19-16. The two sides then exchanged points until Evanston’s Holly Desmond stepped up to the service line.
Desmond rattled off two straight aces to make it just a one point game at 23-22. However, Evanston could not complete the comeback as a Pehar kill would give Niles West set one 25-23.
“Credit to Evanston, they were serving really tough tonight so we couldn’t run as fast paced of an offense as we would have liked,” said Niles West head coach Marko Kljajic.
“We were forced to set Natalia a little more to get us going a little bit, and she did. Again, credit to Evanston they were getting touches on her, keeping a lot of plays alive but she’s a big player, and big players come up in big moments.”
After losing the opening set, Evanston came out firing in set two, jumping on Niles West to take an early 7-4 lead.
With the Wildkits still maintaining a slim 13-11 lead, Niles West won an incredibly long rally to completely shift the momentum of the match.
After the rally, Niles West ramped up the service pressure, forcing a flurry of Evanston passing errors to go on a 13-1 run to give them match point at 24-14.
Evanston did manage to fight off four match points, but it was much too late as Niles West went on to win the final set 25-18.
Although the state playoffs are less than two weeks away, it is still important for Niles West to focus on the task at hand and finish the season strong, especially with a rematch against New Trier looming large.
“Yeah, at this time of year you tend to look ahead a lot, especially when you’ve had some success as we have,” said Kljajic.
“I think we looked past Evanston a little bit today and that showed, but once we are able to lock it down and play in the moment, we play our best volleyball.”
Before Niles West can have their conference title showdown with New Trier, they must first get past Niles North next Monday. Evanston will play in the Maine Township Pumpkin tournament this weekend before their own date with New Trier on Monday.