Evanston’s role players didn’t rack up gaudy statistics in the volleyball squad’s first trip to the Charger Invitational tournament at Champaign Centennial on Saturday.
But all of the little things that players like Sam Kaiser, Caitlin Sweeney, Reed Frazel, Clara Seibert and Molly Conover did when they got their opportunities helped add up to a 3-2 tourney record and a 9th place finish overall in the 16-team field.
The Wildkits bounced back from losses in two out of three pool play matches to win the Bronze bracket with consecutive victories over host Champaign Centennial (25-22, 25-10) and Rochester (27-25, 25-20). Coach Pam MacPherson’s squad improved to 8-5 overall despite a spotty performance on offense over a stretch of five matches in one day.
Whether it was Kaiser’s setting, Frazel’s serving, Sweeney’s serve receive, Seibert’s hitting or Conover’s passing, they all earned further looks from the ETHS coaching staff in just the second varsity tournament of their young careers.
After all, depth couldn’t be more important for a team that sports T-shirts with a slogan about the Wolf only being as strong as the Pack. The bigger the pack, the better, and even though all five are first-year varsity players — Kaiser and Seibert are only sophomores — there’s a chance that one or more of them could find their way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
“I really felt like they all picked each other up today, and that’s what a Pack does,” said MacPherson. “I thought Reed Frazel really served well and played good defense. Every single girl played a crucial role for us, and to go 3-2 against some really good competition was great.”
A lack of hitting strength cost the Kits early in the tourney. Ze Omoghibo’s 29 kills were twice as many as the next best individual in pool play as ETHS opened with a 25-17, 28-26 triumph over Johnsburg, then bowed to both Bloomington Central Catholic (25-14, 20-25, 15-13) and Champaign Central (25-20, 25-22).
Against a Centennial team coached by Evanston alum (and former student assistant to MacPherson) Alan Newman, the Kits were tied at 22-22 in the first set when Omoghibo’s block for a point regained the serve. Kaiser came through in the clutch at the service line and scored the last two points on a Centennial mishit and Ruby Smith’s block.
In that match, the Wildkits had to overcome Centennial’s whopping 8 service aces to maneuver to a victory. The second set was much easier with Sweeney providing stability at the libero spot, as the losers didn’t record a single ace and Evanston reeled off 7 straight points to break the set open. Stasie Litinsky’s 7 kills paced the offense.
Versus Rochester, Evanston had to claw its way back after falling behind 5-1 in the first set. They caught up at 12-all, fell behind again, and a nip-and-tuck battle developed down the stretch.
An ace serve by Rochester’s Cassidy Dooley brought the Rockets to within two points of a win with a 23-21 advantage. But Dooley missed her next serve to keep the Kits alive, and Smith responded with an ace of her own and the teams were tied at 23-23, 24-24, and 25-25. Then Litinsky hammered down a kill and a misplay by the Rockets at the net after a great save by Omoghibo on defense led to a 27-25 ETHS triumph.
Frazel’s entry late in the second set gave ETHS the lift it needed on defense and the Kits pulled away to win behind a kill by Litinsky, and a kill and a block by senior middle Naydiia Gary. Both Litinsky and Gary contributed 6 kills apiece against Rochester.