By: Luke Drase
The girls volleyball regional taking place at Fremd high school was expected to be the most tightly contested regional in the northern suburbs.
Thus far, it has not disappointed one bit.
In Tuesdays action, Niles West came back to beat a red-hot Maine West team 25-19, 25-20, while Maine East upset the hosts Fremd in a heart-stopping three set contest 16-25, 27-25, 26-24 to set up an all CSL regional final.
The first match of the night pitted Maine West against Niles West in a CSL North vs. South showdown.
Maine West continued their blistering late season play by jumping on Niles West early 6-3, due to the Wolves’ poor serve receive.
However, it did not take long for Niles West (who was playing for the first time in a week) to shake off the rust.
The Wolves went on a 6-0 run to take a 9-6 lead that forced Maine West to call a timeout and regroup.
The timeout did little to slow Niles West down. Nicole Zelazko managed to contain Maine West middle hitter Jessica Riedl, blocking her twice to extend the Niles West lead.
But luckily for Maine West, they were getting great contributions from their outside hitters Reilly Olson and Amanda Grzebien to keep them within striking distance.
Maine West gradually crawled their way back into set one, and a stuff block on Natalia Pehar actually tied the match up at 15 a piece.
Unfortunately for Maine West, they were unable to continue their frenetic pace, as Niles West settled down to go on a 10-4 run taking the opening set 25-19.
In almost a complete reversal in set two, Niles West were the team that came out of the gates hot.
Led by Pehar, complimented by a number of Maine West errors, Niles West took a 8-3 lead and seemed to be cruising towards the regional championship match.
Knowing their season was in jeopardy, Maine West cleaned up their act and actually managed to take the lead in the second set at 13-11, but the celebration was short lived.
Niles West responded straight away, starting with a four point run to give them a two point lead, a deficit that Maine West was never able to recover from.
Try as they might, Maine West could not find one last comeback and before anyone in the gym knew it, Niles West took the set 25-20 ending a tremendous season from Maine West.
The match to follow was the always dubious 5/12 matchup between Fremd and Maine East.
Much like the night before, Maine East came out extremely flat. Despite keeping it close in the beginning, the usually stout Maine East defense looked weak, and their hitters could not put the ball down.
This unfortunate combination, along with the aggressive jump serve from Jess Mazur, allowed Fremd to roll to a 25-16 set one victory.
As Maine East’s tournament was looking like it would be ending before it even got off the ground, the Blue Demons finally started to play the way they have been all season long.
Starting from the back, Maine East found the energy that was sorely lacking in their win against Conant, and their first set against Fremd.
Libero Maddie Sielski and defensive specialist Geleen Reyes shook off their poor opening set and absolutely refused to let the ball hit the floor on the Demons side of the net as Maine East took a 12-6 lead.
“Maddie and Geleen played an outstanding game in the back row,” said Maine East coach Kevin Bohn. “They were in the right position all the time, they extended rallies, they picked up their serve receive and they kind of beat themselves up, we got into their head.”
Even though Maine East was thriving defensively, they were still having trouble putting the volleyball away, due to the tall Fremd front line, allowing the Vikings to earn four straight points to make it a 12-10 set.
To counter the massive height discrepancy, Maine East started to tip the ball all over the court to maintain their advantage.
The off speed shots beat the Fremd defense time and time again, allowing Maine East to side out at will to retain a 21-18 lead.
Bohn said: “We had to keep them honest on defense and keep them guessing. If keep doing the same thing it gets predictable and we did a great a great job with it.”
With little time left in the set, Fremd made their move, scoring three straight points to tie the game up at 21. Not long after, the Vikings would have match point at 24-23, and 25-24.
Fremd had ample opportunities to put the match away, but the Maine East defense came up big yet again, keeping rallies alive that seemed destined to hit the floor.
When Maine East had their own set point chance at 26-25, they did not let it slip away, claiming the win on their first attempt off a Chris Kotsifas kill, forcing the decisive third set.
With all the momentum trending in the Blue Demons direction, Maine East silenced the home crowd in the final set by taking an 8-5 lead.
Even after the timeout, more dominant play from the Blue Demons back row continued to fluster the Fremd attackers as they committed all sorts of hitting errors allowing Maine East to extend their lead to 16-11.
The two teams battled back and forth, exchanging points until it seemed Maine East had it all but locked up when they led 21-16.
Not wanting their season to end, Fremd went on a run, not unlike set two to tie the game up at 22, and taking the lead at 24-22 to give them a third match point.
The matched seemed to be all but over over the next two points as Maine East sent free-ball after free-ball to their opponent, but Maine East miraculously survived.
Kim Sergey would then go on to close out the match with three straight points, capping off the night with an ace to complete the upset.
“These girls really want it. We’ve been n some big time games and they’re never going to quit,” said Bohn. “I think we learned from game one yesterday that this could potentially be the end of our season, they’re not ready to end it yet and neither am I.”
Maine East and Niles West will face off for the regional championship at Fremd on Thursday evening at 6:00. Niles West won the last meeting earlier this year in straight sets 25-23, 27-25.