Tuesday night’s matches at Niles North was all that a high school volleyball fan could ask for. There were tremendous runs, long rallies, amazing digs and timely kills.
When the dust settled two MSL schools, Wheeling and Schaumburg emerged victorious and will face each other for the regional championship on Thursday night at 6:00 pm.
In the first match of the night the 14th seeded Wheeling Wildcats surprised the 3rd seeded Loyola Ramblers 25-14, 14-25, 25-22.
The first set was a back and forth affair. Loyola jumped out to a 9-3 lead due to a variety of passing errors by Wheeling.
After a time out, Wheeling stormed back to score six points in a row to knot the set at 9. The match continued to be tight until a surprising sideout by Wheeling as libero Jazmyn Veloso got a kill to again tie the match at 14-14.
Little did anyone know that Loyola would not score another point this set.
Senior setter Jessica Janowski stepped behind the service line and proceeded to serve out the set. During the run Janowski put pressure on the Loyola passers with line drive serves and a timely short serve ace after a Loyola timeout.
Set two was almost a replay of the first except it was Loyola who took control early and ended the set with their own run.
Loyola showed why they were seeded third as junior OH Julia Martinez had three kills to get Loyola a quick 9-5 lead.
Wheeling did mount a comeback and got the set close at 15-13, but much like the first set Loyola had a run of their own up their sleeve.
With Martinez serving, the Ramblers scored nine straight points to take a 24-13 lead and eventually win the set would 25-14.
In the vital few minutes between sets, Wheeling head coach Jason Kopkowski said: “This is the set that is going to determine who you are, keep it simple, know your job and execute with all your effort.”
The third set would now become critical and Loyola set the tone early with consecutive kills by Elizabeth Walker, Mary Kate Lopez and Martinez to take a 4-1 lead.
Wheeling held tough and with scrappy play by their back row kept the match within reach. After Loyola took a 18-14 lead late in the match Wheeling was forced to call their final timeout.
“We lose we are going home,” said Coach Kopkowski during the huddle. “Don’t pay attention to the score, from this point forward you can’t look at the scoreboard, you have to be that engaged in the play, it’s as simple as that.”
The pep talk worked.
Kills by Kamila Staniszewski, a setter dump by Janowski and another kill by junior middle Rugile Jaciunas forced Loyola to call timeout clinging to a 18-17 lead.
Loyola then scored two straight to take a 20-17 lead but again Wheeling was not finished. The Wildcats forced a tie at 20 and the match see-sawed back and forth to 22-22.
With the match coming to it’s conclusion, Wheeling had good fortune on their side as outside hitter Ellie Welter’s kill attempt rolled off the tips of the fingers of the Loyola front row and hit the floor.
An ace by Janowski and a final kill by Welter completed the comeback, giving Wheeling a 25-22 win and a date on Thursday for the regional championship.
In the second match of the evening the Schaumburg Saxons held off a second attempts at an upset bid by narrowly defeating Buffalo Grove 18-25, 25-14, 25-20.
The first set saw an enthused Buffalo Grove squad play extremely scrappy to lead the match 17-13. Down the stretch middle hitter Mary Nowlan contributed two kills and a stuff block while Claire Ferriss also chipped in with two kills to propel Buffalo Grove to the 25-18 first set win.
“I told our team before the game, we have to expect that they are going to come out and play better,” said Schaumburg coach Tim Murphy. “It was a concern of ours that we had beat them about a week ago and you know how teams have that in the back of their head somewhere.”
Much like the night’s first game, the higher seeded team came storming back to easily take the second set. Schaumburg was led by setter Michelle Candotti who distributed the ball all around the front row to roll to a 25-14 win.
The deciding third set was a micro version of the first two, with neither team giving in.
Buffalo Grove jumped out to an 8-4 lead thanks to two kills from Nicole Langer and another from Claire Ferriss, but four missed serves by Buffalo Grove kept the match close.
The set saw nine ties up until both teams reached 17 a piece.
It was at this point that Schaumburg finally broke through on back to back kills by Sterrett. Buffalo Grove fought back, but were never able to regain the lead as the match ended with a 25-20 Schaumburg win.
Murphy said: “We settled into a rhythm in the middle of the second game and then we battled through in the third game, I told my team it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You can’t get upset with what happens in the first five points of the game.”
Schaumburg will look to complete their “race” on Thursday night against Wheeling.