Niles West secure second straight regional title
By: Luke Drase
Not even the support of nearly 200 fans were able to help Maine East overcome Niles West in the regional title game at Fremd on Thursday night.
Led by star outside hitter Natalia Pehar, Niles West comfortably defeated the Blue Demons 25-19, 25-12 for their second straight regional championship.
“It feels amazing, I’m just so ecstatic,” said a gleeful Pehar. “No words can really explain it right now.”
Not only was it a special night for the players, but it was only the third match back for Niles West head coach Stacy Roth who missed much of the season due to maternity leave, who made sure to give credit to her assistant coach Marko Kljajic.
“He’s done such a great job with these girls.” said Roth. “I was only there for the first 10 games. I did some stuff behind the scenes but he prepared them every day, he got them to the point they’re at. It’s great to be back, it’s great to come back and win a regional but Marko deserves a lot of the credit.”
Things were going well for Maine East in the early portion of the match. After a back and forth first few points, Maine East actually managed to stuff block Pehar to take a 5-4 lead.
The block did little to affect the confidence and Pehar however. Quickly recovering, Niles West would eventually tie the game up at 10.
Roth said: “Natalia’s a gamer. You saw last it year in the playoffs she wanted the ball at the end of games, and when that crowd starts cheering ‘overrated’ that’s just going to get her going even better because she’s a competitor.”
And get going she did.
After tying the set up, the Wolves proceeded to take a six point lead at 18-12, largely due to Pehar being unstoppable during that frame.
Niles West never relinquished their six point lead or added to it, cruising to a 25-19 set win.
With the loss, Maine East found themselves in a familiar position as they did on Tuesday when they lost their opening set to Fremd.
Like Tuesday, Maine East raced out to a 5-2 lead, seemingly ready to take on the uphill battle that lie ahead.
However, the Demons hopes were quickly dashed, just as soon as they began. Incredible serving from the entire Niles West team put Maine East on their heels, and before anyone realized what had happened, the Wolves went on a 10-1 run taking a 12-6 lead.
Maine East looked like they would make a game out of it, as they won the next three points to cut the deficit to just three at 12-9, but after a timeout, it was all Niles West.
With libero Sloan Tomczak serving, Niles West went on another five point run to make it 17-9 and this time, they didn’t let off the gas.
The Wolves offense completely overpowered the Maine East block and back row, as they cruised though the set to a thoroughly convincing 25-12 win.
Even with the disheartening loss, there is little to for Maine East to hang their heads about. The Demons senior laden team won 23 matches, to go along with a share of the CSL North title.
“I’m just so proud of these girls,” said Maine East coach Kevin Bohn.
“I was looking through the seasons the seniors have had through the lower levels. Three of the four years they had 20+ wins and they’ve done so much to build the culture and respect of Maine East volleyball. I cannot thank them enough for their dedication and they’ve done things beyond what they even realize.”
Niles West will go on to play New Trier in the sectional semifinals at New Trier next Monday. The same New Trier team that Niles West knocked out of the playoffs last year, and ruined their unbeaten conference run just last week.
“It’s going to be a great battle,” said Roth. “We split with New Trier this year, they’re on their home floor, we knocked them out of the regionals last year so I’m sure they feel like they owe us one, but we’re ready. We want it too and it will come down to who plays the better game.