By: Luke Drase
Halfway through the conference season, Maine West seemed to be out of the conference championship race with a 3-2 record, and losses at Maine East and Highland Park.
But now, just four weeks after seeming down and out, Maine West have joined Maine East and Highland Park as CSL North co-conference champions after their 25-21, 25-16, senior night victory over Highland Park.
“I was anxious to go the entire day,” said Maine West senior middle, Jessica Riedl.
“I got to go out there with my amazing seniors, we came together as a team and just pulled through. It’s an amazing feeling after all these years. It’s built up from not a good season my freshman year, now to over 20 wins and conference champions. It’s amazing.”
“It was a great day, I’m just so happy for our players who have really pushed hard over the last few weeks.” added Maine West coach Mike Cott.
“It really shows that we’re gritty. We lost early to Maine East and Highland Park the first time through and we knew we had to be better, we knew we had to run the table. I’m happy for all our seniors. They all contributed to this victory and really to a part of our conference championship.”
The early portion of the match was a back and forth affair. Maine West was passing as good as ever, but Highland Park returned the favor at every chance they had.
While holding a slim, 7-6 lead the serve receive from Maine West started to let them down. Highland Park’s Miranda Mottlowitz took advantage of the lapse in play, and went on a serving run to give the Giants a 10-7 lead.
After another free ball sent over by Maine West, the Warriors finally got the sideout they so desperately needed when sophomore right side hitter Angela Dugalic blocked Highland Park’s Ireland Hieb.
Hieb got another set he very next play, but Dugalic’s presence was felt by Hieb, who rolled the ball into the net to pull Maine West within one, at 10-9.
Dugalic may have only finished the match with four kills and three blocks, but her contributions were much more than just a stat line.
“She was huge,” said Cott.
“Maybe the biggest play of the game was her stuff block the first time she was matched up Ireland. Once we stuffed that one down, immediately the shots changed, we started seeing roll shots that ended up as hitting errors. That doesn’t show up in the stat sheet but her presence made the hitter think a little bit more and we were able to capitalize on that.”
With Maine West regaining their confidence, the match remained tight all throughout the set with Highland Park maintaining a slim advantage.
The Warriors finally took the lead at 20-19, after back to back kills from two of their senior leaders, Riedl and Amanda Grzebien.
Highland Park took a timeout to try and ice the Maine West server Reilly Olson, but Olson kept her cool, got her serves in after the timeout and even aced Highland Park to put the Warriors in a commanding position.
Down but not out, Highland Park won two hard earned points, but like countless times before, the ever consistent Riedl, who finished with 10 kills and three block, came away with a huge kill to power Maine West to a 25-21 first set victory.
Cott said: “Jess has just been our rock. She’s been very consistent through the three years I’ve been here and definitely our leader on the court.”
Riding a huge wave of momentum into set two, and backed by a large home crowd, Maine West got off to an even better start in set number two.
Grzebien, who finished the night with eight kills, got the offense rolling with three kills, within Maine West’s first six points of the set as Maine West jumped out to a 7-3 lead.
Cott said: “I think Grzebien played the best game of her career tonight. her approach on the outside was really aggressive, really athletic and made smart decisions and she was a big reason why we won tonight.”
Even after a Highland Park timeout, there was no stopping the Warriors. Highland Park struggled mightily in serve receive, and were unable to get the ball to Hieb or Olivia Coleman which led to a 14-4 Maine West advantage.
Highland Park eventually settled in and started siding out, they even made a run late in the set to cut the Maine West lead to just six points at 21-15, but by then it was far too late.
Maine West would go on to close out the final set 25-16, taking match and earning their share of the conference title.
Although they have every right to celebrate their first conference title in nine years, both coaches and players from Maine West knows that their season is far from over and there is still work to be done.
Cott said: “We’ll enjoy this, it was awesome. It was the first conference championship I’ve been apart of in 14 years in the CSL, but we have Deerfield on Monday. If we take our foot off the pedal we can get beat so we need to make sure we’re staying hungry.”
“This win will just push us right through the next practices and make us focus even more, it increases our desire” said Riedl.
“We won conference, now we want to go win regionals, win sectionals and go as far as we can right now.”
Maine West will face a familiar opponent in Deerfield at the regional quarterfinals at Fremd on Monday while Highland Park will face off against Barrington on Tuesday in a regional semi-final match.