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Girls volleyball: Porters look sharp against Warriors in win

NEW LENOX – When a volleyball team is able to serve well, it basically can take its opponents out of the match.

That’s what happened in Thursday’s SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover between Lockport and host Lincoln-Way West.

The Porters combined a solid serving game with good blocking and a fine defensive effort to roll to a 25-17, 25-16 victory over the Warriors.

A key moment happened late in the first set, at which point the match still was very much up for grabs.

West (6-5) closed to within 18-17 after two kills from Brianna Knezz and a block from Caroline Ahern. But after a wide hit, Jill Hook (14 digs, four aces) stepped to the service line for the visitors and served up two straight aces. Nadia Goich later added a block, and Hook completed her six-point service run with another ace for the Porters (7-5).

“After that last ace we were messing around, since if you miss a serve on game-point, you owe the team a dozen doughnuts, and mine almost cost me a dozen,” Hook said. “But that also brought a good vibe and energy to the next game. In the beginning of the season, we didn’t know each other that well. But as the season has progressed, we’re really starting to trust each other on defense, and that the person behind you will do their job.”

The Porters had won three in a row before dropping a three-set decision at Plainfield Central last week. As his team prepares to compete in the Oak Lawn Invite this weekend, coach Nick Mraz is pleased with its progress of late.

“Ever since we beat Andrew in three, we’ve been playing really good volleyball,” Mraz said. “Plainfield Central was a battle, and tonight for the most part we were pretty clean, and I’m happy with how things worked out. When Jill is rolling, she has one of the best serves on our team and can hit all of the zones I’m giving her. Our chemistry has been much better since the opening weekend. That’s what the season is for, so you have to get competitive matches early on. We’re really distributing the ball to all of our hitters, and they’re all a threat.”

Things went back and forth in the early stages of the match with West getting off to a 4-1 lead, Lockport moving ahead at 12-5 after two blocks from Goich, and the Warriors responding with a kill from Knezz that gave her the serve. She collected four straight points and capped things with an ace to bring her team to within 12-10.

Lockport got off to a strong start in Game 2 as Morgan Schmutzler (four kills, six digs) used two kills and an ace to highlight a 4-0 run that gave it an early 5-1 advantage. The Warriors managed to pull to within two points on a couple of occasions, but the Porters closed the match out with a 10-4 outburst.

Other top performers for the Porters included Taylor Morgan (five kills) and Becca Oldendorf (three blocks), while leaders for West included Kirsten Leitshuh (seven kills, 14 digs) and Hannah Rubin (18 assists, eight digs).

“I think that the positivity and everyone coming together really helps, and the momentum that we get when we get on a run allows us to keep pushing,” Porters opposite Hannah Knippenberg said. “I feel like as we’ve progressed through the season that we’ve just been doing better and better, and are working together. We have a very well-rounded team. Jill is an amazing libero, and we have big blockers and hitters, and it’s all just coming together.”

As for the Warriors, who also will be playing in the Oak Lawn Invite this weekend, coach Matt Lawrence has seen encouraging signs from his team but realizes that Lockport outperformed them on this occasion.

“We had some good, long rallies, but Lockport just seemed to be the team that won those,” Lawrence said. “They’re a good team, and they out-served us and had some big blocks during the long rallies. We just have to find ways to win the long rallies and do the little things right. We’ve talked about covering our hitters, and I thought our girls did cover the ball well, and we got blocked a lot. Our team is working hard.”