Written by Dennis Mahoney
Evanston’s girls volleyball team proved again Saturday that the Wildkits know how to grab the momentum in a sport where that can be the most important factor in determining the winner or loser of a given match.
But once they had the momentum, the Wildkits let it slip away and settled for a 22nd place finish at the Wheaton Classic tournament.
A stirring come-from-behind victory over Hinsdale South (15-25, 25-17, 26-24) --- after the Kits appeared to be dead in the water in the Bronze bracket opener --- didn’t carry over as ETHS dropped consecutive matches to Plainfield Central (25-16, 25-18) and Glenbrook South (25-18, 25-19).
The overall 2-3 tourney finish was frustrating in more than one way. Evanston entered tournament play with a five-match winning string, and one win in that streak was over Central Suburban League South division foe GBS. It’s a loss that could impact the eventual sectional tournament seeding --- coaches put more weight on the more recent matches played by any team --- although Kits’ head coach Pam MacPherson will likely point out that the losers were missing starters Meg Fitzpatrick (bad back) and Akilah Wilson (ACT testing) for the tourney finale.
ETHS trailed Hinsdale South 22-15 in the third set and the momentum was all in the Hornets’ favor, until a missed serve by Beth Niestrom gave the Kits just the opening they needed.
Kits’ junior Christine Covode, not usually regarded as one of the squad’s best servers, stunned the Hornets with five consecutive aces (6 overall) in a 9-0 run that brought Evanston back from the dead and into a 24-22 lead. A pair of kills by Caitlin Boer concluded the comeback and finished off the kind of rally that has turned teams’ seasons around just with one win.
That wasn’t the case Saturday. Covode and her teammates struggled after that, both physically and mentally, according to MacPherson.
“Sure, we’re a young team, but even with that it’s really all mental with them. They have the ability, and that’s what makes it so frustrating,” the coach said. “If we had the mental game, we could compete with all of these teams. We rarely start well in a tournament or even in a match, and that’s because we have a problem focusing.
“Covode had a moment of greatness for us there against Hinsdale South. When we can piece together more from her, she’ll be a phenomenal player.”
Covode’s eight aces in the three Saturday matches weren’t the only highlights for Evanston. Ruby Smith (11 kills, 7 blocks) and Ehize Omoghibo (10 kills) were tough at the net, Fitzpatrick added 5 blocks, and Clara Gruger continued her stellar back row play with 35 digs.
Also making her varsity debut was sophomore Nastassja Litinsky. She finished with 3 kills and 1 ace serve after being promoted to fill a void at outside hitter with Wilson missing, and showed the ETHS coaching staff enough that the promotion may become permanent.
“We’ve seen growth from all of our sophomores today,” said MacPherson. “I thought Natassja played strong and held her own. She’s definitely a competitor, and we’re looking for good things from her the rest of the year.”
Litinsky earned a start in the match against GBS as the Kits had to use a makeshift lineup with Fitzpatrick unable to get on the court at the end of a long day. Evanston pulled close to the Titans in the first set, down 20-17, but GBS responded with a 5-1 run. South also led the entire second set, although kills by Ruby Smith and Boer made things interesting at 21-16 before the comeback effort fizzled.