Written by Dennis Mahoney.
Passing problems got Evanston’s volleyball team off to a slow start at the Jacobs Invitational tournament, but the young Wildkits finally discovered a winning formula.
Passing isn’t a problem when you’re serving up as many aces as ETHS did Saturday. After notching only a total of two ace serves in pool play losses to Crystal Lake Central (25-13, 25-13) and Rockford Boylan (25-21, 25-12), the Wildkits stepped up at the service line and scored three straight triumphs to earn 9th place overall in the 12-team field.
A total of 18 ace serves in the final three matches played a big role for ETHS. The Kits dumped Dundee-Crown 25-21, 25-18 in their final pool play match, then defeated both Hampshire (25-17, 25-21) and Dundee-Crown again in a rematch (25-18, 25-14) in the Silver bracket.
Seven different players racked up aces for the Wildkits overall. Leading the way were Tess Brieva with four, Keegan Joyce with three and Clara Gruger with three.
“I thought we served a little better today than we have in our other matches,” said Evanston coach Pam MacPherson. “Serving to zones is definitely important for us. Keegan has good placement for us, and even her misses are aggressive misses. I can live with those. Right now, we’re at the point where we need to take other teams out of their offense with our serving.
“Getting those three wins will really help us mentally, I think. Winning will really help our confidence. We did play better overall than we did last week (at the Plainfield North tournament), and I thought our free ball offense allowed us to have more offense in the last three matches.”
Joyce jump-started the Wildkits on their way to the semifinal triumph over Hampshire. With the Kits leading just 5-4, she fired an ace with a bullet to the open floor. A Hampshire hitting miscue and a kill by Christine Covode --- off of Joyce’s set --- concluded the mini-run and Evanston never led by fewer than three points for the remainder of the first set.
In the second set, senior Caitlin Boer served seven straight points --- although none were aces --- as the Kits broke the contest open early and led 10-4. Junior Meg Fitzpatrick recorded two blocks for points during that run for the winners.
Burned by seven Evanston aces in the pool play loss, Dundee-Crown found no answers when the teams played in the bracket finale, either. Brieva produced a pair of aces and Covode, Bulf, Joyce, Gruger and even Akilah Wilson were credited with one each in the lopsided victory.
Wilson came off the bench to put down three kills and also registered a block for a point in the second set.
MacPherson also praised the play of junior libero Gruger, whose back row play gave ETHS the opportunity to keep more balls in play as the tourney progressed.
“I thought Clara really played well defensively, and she passed well. She’s won the job back there,” the coach said of Gruger.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of progress this week. Having a week of practice really helped.”