By: Luke Drase
Coming into Wednesday’s match, New Trier had already locked up the CSL South girls volleyball conference title with a win over Evanston, combined with Niles West enduring their worst loss of the season against Niles North.
With both teams seemingly trending in difference directions, most expected New Trier to win the match going away to complete a 10-0 conference season, but Niles West had other plans.
With extra energy from their senior night, the Wolves put their last game in the rearview mirror to beat the Trevians 21-25, 25-19, 25-22.
“We just talked about coming out today with a lot of confidence unlike last time,” said senior middle hitter Nicole Zelazko.”
“It’s what we worked for all season, we had our goal in mind of wanting to beat New Trier and we didn’t want anything to get in our way.”
The opening set saw both teams exchanging blows early on. Zelazko and Natalia Pehar led the way early for the Wolves, while New Trier countered with Maddie McGregor.
With the set tied up at four, New Trier made a conscious decision to camp out on Pehar to try and slow her down.
New Trier blocked Pehar twice in a row, and used that momentum to jump out to a 10-5 lead, seemingly putting them in a commanding position.
Niles West continued to battle though, they managed to keep the ball in play, and let New Trier make the mistakes. The multiple errors from the Trevians let Niles West go on a six point run of their own to take a 11-10 lead.
However, the second New Trier cut back on their own mistakes, they regained complete control of the set.
The Trevians would eventually reach set point at 24-17, where Niles West would make it slightly interesting as they won four straight points, but a missed serve ended any chance of the miraculous comeback, giving New Trier the 25-21 win.
After the short break, Niles West came onto the floor determined to force the match into a third set.
On her senior night, Zelazko set the tone early with two huge stuff blocks to get the Wolves rolling in set number two.
“Getting a block in general in a game is the most amazing feeling,” said Zelazko.
“It’s one of my favorite feelings and starting off with two just gave me an extra boost of confidence and I knew that this was it, this was happening and nobody was going to get in our way.”
Niles West coach Marko Klajic added: “Nicole just brings so much. At one point in the game, she turned around and was directing the team out there like a Tom Brady or a Payton Manning. You could see the intensity in her eyes, she was playing for keeps tonight and she really carried us through this match tonight.”
Despite the great start for Niles West, New Trier bounced back right away thanks to great service pressure.
Grace Bozzo and Taite Ryan both converted on aces for the Trevians, but it was middle hitter Gillian Klise who did most of the damage for New Trier.
Klise stepped to the service line with a 7-5 in hand and proceeded to relentlessly attack the Niles West back row, not allowing them to get into any offensive system. Klise extended the Trevian lead to 11-6 before missing a serve after an excellent timeout taken from coach Klajic.
Even after getting out of that stagnant rotation, New Trier maintained their five point lead until another missed served began the Niles West comeback.
Going on a 7-2 run, Niles West regained the lead thanks to the play of Zelazko, and freshman outside hitter Elianna Scalero, who showed that the moment was not too big for her.
Scalero said: “I wasn’t trying to do to much. In the first set they were blocking cross so I tried to go line and just kept hitting off the block and in set two, the defense moved over so I adjusted and tried to hit sharp cross shots.”
“The thing with Elianna is the moment has never been too big for her, she’s stepped into this role and owned it,” added Klajic.
“Her maturity level for a freshman is just outstanding and consistent is not a word you would use to describe a freshman, but somehow she plays with the consistency of a seasoned varsity athlete.”
That moment is when the wheels completely came off for New Trier. The Trevians could not serve the ball in to save their life, missing three serves in quick succession.
Niles West jumped on the opportunity and did not let up, finishing off set two with a 25-19 win.
Things did not get much better for New Trier in set three. The Trevians missed a serve on the first point of the net, which was followed by two hitting errors from the usually reliable
Niles West would maintain a six point lead for much of the set until the game reached 19-13.
Not going away quietly, New Trier rallied and made it a two point game at 21-19 to put some pressure back on the Wolves. However, a kill by Zelazko and an ace by Scalero quickly snuffed out the Trevian run.
Fittingly enough, the match ended on a New Trier missed serve, giving the Wolves the 21-25, 25-19, 25-22 victory.
With the regular season over and done with, both teams will move on to compete in regionals in the IHSA state tournament.
The number one seed New Trier will travel to Prospect for their regional contests, while the number four seed Niles West will be riding high as they head out to Fremd.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs. Last year we came into it as underdogs in almost every single game,” said Zelazko
“We’re coming in as a little bit of underdogs again but I think that just knowing what we can do tonight will translate into the playoffs. This win is what we needed at this point in the season. We try never to peak, but I think it’s happening at the right time just like it was last year.”