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Evanston’s volleyball team earned a 6th place overall finish in the 24-team field at the Maine West Pumpkin Invitational tournament Saturday.
But the real story of the tourney wasn’t any steps forward taken by the Wildkits, now 14-15 overall on the season.
Instead, the Kits departed Des Plaines with a lingering question mark about how to replace defensive specialist Aliana Alanguilan. The senior co-captain suffered an apparent season-ending knee injury in the first match of the day, a loss to Lyons Township, and the Wildkits never really recovered from that devastating blow.
Head coach Pam MacPherson will likely dip down to the junior varsity squad to promote sophomore Reyanna James to try the fill the void at that position now. Evanston dropped a three set decision to Lyons — 24-26, 25-12, 25-13 — and then knocked off scrappy Riverside-Brookfield 25-27, 25-20, 25-17.
Libertyville defeated ETHS 25-23 and then ran off 11 consecutive points in the second set while prevailing 25-17 in the 5th place match.
The Kits were tied 7-7 with Lyons in the second set when Alanguilan severely twisted her right knee trying to chase down a deep kill. “I knew right away something was really wrong when I heard Aliana scream like that,” MacPherson said. “When you see someone who’s a teammate, a leader and a captain go down like that and she’s not there for you anymore, it’s huge. It was a shock for all of us.
“Aliana always brought us consistency, ball control and talk on the court even when she wasn’t handling the ball. She brought a peace of mind for all of us because of the way she backed everyone up and that left them at ease to just do their jobs. She was always talking back there, telling people whether to go line or cross (with their spike attempts). And she always protected the corners for us on defense as one of our top serve receivers, too.
“But one of the best things about this team despite — or because of — our inconsistency this year is that the others know they always have to be ready to step up. They’ll all try to step in and emulate her as a leader now.”
Christine Covode (12 kills) got hot down the stretch against the Lions as ETHS pulled out a taut win in the first set, before LT pulled away with decisive wins in the last two sets. Ehize Omoghibo added 8 kills for Evanston.
It took the Wildkits three sets to put away Riverside-Brookfield in the next round. In the second set, ETHS opened a 20-13 advantage, saw that edge whittled to 20-17, and then regrouped with mistakes by the Bulldogs giving them the opening. Setter Tess Brieva actually tallied the winning point on a set that missed connections with hitter Ruby Smith but settled safely onto an open spot on the other side of the net.
Three straight ace serves by Smith broke open the third set. Evanston’s offensive leaders against R-B were Omoghibo and Nastassja Litinsky with 6 kills apiece, and Covode and Naydiia Gary each contributed 4.
The Wildkits concluded tourney play with their second loss this season to Libertyville, despite 7 kills by Omoghibo.
“I thought we played Libertyville tougher than the first time. They just had a little more fight left in them at the end there,” MacPherson pointed out.