It’s really, really difficult to beat the reigning champs. Especially when those reigning champions is the Glenbard West volleyball team.
Lake Park learned that the hard way on Tuesday evening at Addison Trail as Glenbard West came back after dropping the opening set to win 18-25, 25-19, 25-18 to keep their hopes for a fourth consecutive state title alive.
“I think a lot of us early on were just making a lot of mental errors because we were a little bit nervous,” said Glenbard West setter Henry Curtis. “But once we settled in we knew our backs were against the wall so we just came out and played.”
Despite the Hilltoppers having played deep in the tournament so many times before, it was Lake Park who like they were the team who have played in three straight title matches early on.
The Lancers were completely locked in from in system passing, to good setting, and finishing it off with smart, timely hitting from outside hitters Jordan Haigh (nine kills) and Nicholas Martinski (13 kills) to put them in front 10-5.
While Glenbard West were doing a nice job in serve receive against a tough Lake Park service attack, their setters and hitters were just a bit out of synch which allowed Lake Park to extend their lead midway through the set.
Glenbard West never threatened Lake Park’s lead in the opening set, but late points did give the Hilltoppers some confidence heading into set two.
But whatever Glenbard West were lacking in the opening game, they found it in set number two.
“The pep talk was, we’re young, I get it, but stop playing to lose,” said Glenbard West head coach Christine Giunta-Mayer. “We have been working on, don’t be nervous, just be excited. It was a different demeanour, a different team.”
The Hilltoppers come out on a mission jumping out to a 8-3 lead where everything outside hitter Stone Metz touched (14 kills), touched found the floor.
“Stone just turned it up. He has that about him and I told him, shift gears, and he just started to go up and hit it.”
Metz was complimented by senior middle hitter JT Ardell, who finally made his presence felt at the net with three blocks in the second set alone and would go on to finish with five kills and four blocks.
“We really picked up our defense in the second and third set. Zack [Morris] was playing out of his mind, and our back row was picking up everything.”
After comfortably winning the second set to force the decisive third, Glenbard West seemed to get stronger as the match went on and were given a huge boost by setter Henry Curtis (36 assists) who shook off a sub-par first set to running an offense that couldn’t be stopped.
“I’m so proud of Henry,” said Giunta-Mayer. “It’s hard to lose a kid like [former setters] Paul Bischoff and Sean Farmer and be Henry Curtis where he has to come in. But he’s done it, he’s come in and listened to our every word.”
Glenbard West’s lead ballooned to as much as nine points in the final frame, an incredible feat considering the quality of Lake Park. The Lancers never quit, fighting off four match points, but the deficit was much too large to overcome.
As the Hilltoppers make their fifth straight trip to Hoffman Estates, they will face a familiar foe in Barrington for their state quarterfinal match.
The last time these two teams met, Barrington got the better of the Hilltoppers in the semifinals of Northside Classic, despite being without starting outside hitter Gabe Hartke, a result that still rests in the back of the team’s mind.
“State is going to be awesome,” said Curtis. “Barrington is one of our losses this year, so we would like to get some revenge on them but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
The state tournament kicks off this Friday at 10:30 AM at Hoffman Estates high school.