JOLIET – With seven returning players on its roster, Plainfield North’s girls volleyball team believed that it had the makeup to be one of the better squads in the area, and based on early performances they definitely are on the right track.
The Tigers improved to 7-2 on the season after capturing a 25-10, 25-16 Southwest Prairie Conference victory at Joliet Central on Thursday. Their only losses came against Minooka, while one of their biggest wins was over Lockport at their own tournament.
Coach Matt Slechta’s Tigers took care of business against a Steelmen squad that was upbeat after a conference win at Plainfield South in their season opener and from adding to their win total over the weekend at their Peg Bryan Memorial Invite.
North utilized a balanced attack to even its SPC record at 1-1. Leading the Tigers were Ella Wrobel (six kills), Anna Gawron (15 assists, two blocks) and Ariel Amaya (four blocks). Gawron put together a long service run in the first set, and Lily Summers and Mekenzie Smith each had runs from the service line in the second game.
“We’ve had some good matches, and right now it’s just all about building consistency,” Slechta said. “We’re just trying to tweak some things and build a rhythm. We’re trying to see what everybody can do, so tonight was a good night to test things. The girls have been playing together for about the last three years,` so it’s a good mix of seniority and youth.”
In Game 1, the Tigers led, 7-4, before Wrobel got two kills to help start an 8-0 service run by Gawron in which she served a pair of aces to build a 16-4 cushion.
“One of our favorite things is that we all connect so well on the court,” Gawron said. “We’ve been together for a while, and we have height, and we’re really going to use that to our advantage this year. We really focus on speeding everything up in practice and competing at the tempo and speed that we want. And we motivate each other in practice.”
To their credit, the Steelmen bounced back from a rough opening set with a much better effort in Game 2. They took an early 3-1 lead and remained close for a while, trailing 11-9 despite seeing a five-point service run by Summers that featured two aces and blocks by Gawron and Amaya. But a kill by Ali Jansen gave the ball to Smith, who served up six straight points to make it 18-9 to prevent any more drama.
“We’ve been working a lot harder in practice and focusing on the small things that are going to make a big difference in the end,” Wrobel said. “Everyone motivates each other since we’re an older team that has been playing together for a couple of years.”
Joliet Central was led by Grace Hallihan (four kills) and Casie Walsh (three aces).
Steelmen coach Vivian Helwich liked how her team played in the second game after a tough start.
“Our biggest thing is that we make sure that we have confidence and are giving the girls the best opportunity that we can in order for them to perform,” Helwich said.