No matter the sport, there is always that one point in the season where teams finally start to click.
Rotations have been settled upon, players have adapted to their new roles, and the rust teams are required to shake off have all of a sudden magically washed away.
That day for Stevenson came on Monday evening, as the Patriots held off a late Hersey run to win 25-20, 29-27 and claim their 16th win of the season.
“We’ve been much more focused on just playing good volleyball,” said Stevenson head coach Eric Goolish. “We’ve really cranked up the defense in the last week and a half and it’s been a huge difference.”
Although Stevenson did not get out to the best of starts, starting the match in a 0-4 hole the early deficit was more due to bad luck than poor play, as Hersey got a kill off a one handed set, followed up by an ace that skimmed off the head of a Stevenson defender.
What looked to be a long night for the Patriots quickly transitioned into a 9-7 lead, as Stevenson got all of their front row players involved in the early going.
“We’ve had a couple of slow starts this year, but I thought we were actually playing pretty well,” said Goolish. “We had three perfect passes to start the game, Hersey just made great plays and of course the fourth went off the head. That’s going to happen but you have to keep going.”
Stevenson took advantage of their new found momentum as Alex Bian went on an incredible run from the service line to extend the Patriots lead to six points, which was all the cushion they needed to take set one.
“It’s been a great combination of his serving and the rotation we’re in, in the front row,” said Goolish. “It’s a perfect storm for us. We have the right kid serving, the right guys in the front and he was targeting that cross court corner so he was causing lots of trouble.”
Not deterred by a sub-par set by their standards, Hersey got out to another strong start in set number two.
The combination of setter Jacob Migas (29 assists, three blocks) and middle hitter Joe Nugent (11 kills, 4 blocks) saw the Huskies take four point leads on multiple occasions, but every time it looked as though Hersey would pull away, Stevenson had a rebuttle.
Goolish said: “They have strong hitters across the board. Our kids served really well which helps push the setter off the net because the middle [Nugent] and the setter [Migas] will just eat you alive.”
Behind a 10 kill, but perhaps more importantly, zero error performance from Leo Chen, Stevenson found themselves with three match points at 24-21, before Hersey strung together five straight points to earn a set point of there own.
But even as their lead evaporated, Chen and Stevenson held their nerve and one final kill from Chen gave the Patriots an impressive resume boosting win over Hersey.
“When Leo plays like that our team is significantly better. He has some nagging injuries but he sucks it up,” said Goolish. “He’s also been a really good leader. When things were getting tight, he was in the back row yelling ‘defense, defense, defense’ and just reminding the reminding the young kids.”
Both teams will return to conference play for their next match with Hersey facing off against Rolling Meadows on Tuesday, while Stevenson will travel to Zion Benton on Wednesday.