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Emotion can only carry a volleyball team so far.
Eventually, you need to score some points to keep your season alive. And Evanston’s Wildkits couldn’t muster enough offense Wednesday night, suffering a season-ending 25-15, 25-21 loss to Maine East in the championship game of the IHSA regional tournament at ETHS’ Beardsley Gym.
Coach Mike McDermott’s Kits saw a second set rally fall short — due partly to a couple of missed serves — and ended their season with a 20-17 overall won-loss record. Emmanuel Smith (4 kills) and freshman Chyne Temple (3 kills) paced the meager ETHS attack.
Ironically, the shorter Kits turned in one of their best blocking performances of the season led by Brian Robinson (4 blocks) against East’s 6-foot-9 Michael Boduch and 6-8 Denis Milchev. But it’s the No. 4-seeded Blue Demons who will advance to the sectional semifinals on Friday night at New Trier.
No. 5 seed Evanston was bidding for back-to-back IHSA regional titles for the first time since 2002-03 but couldn’t deliver a knockout punch.
“We have a senior heavy (7 seniors) team this year and there was a lot of emotion because they wanted it so bad,” McDermott said. “I think that made it difficult for them to channel that energy, and to stay focused tonight. There was much more emotion than usual but we lost our technical focus at the same time.
“Unfortunately, our offense never got going and we’re not the kind of team that has been able to scrap from behind. Our defense was exactly what I asked them for tonight, but what did us in was the inconsistency of our hitters. When we can’t get our middle hitters involved right from the start, then our outside hitters and right-side hitters tend to tighten up and start tipping or hitting the ball out of bounds.
“When we played in system this year, we were awesome. When we weren’t in system, we struggled, and that’s why we never won more than three matches in a row.”
Maine East scored 12 unanswered points in the first set, but the Wildkits rose to the occasion in the second set and didn’t go out without a fight. A block by junior Fernando Ferrer knotted the score at 17-17 to keep a 4-0 run going — but a net serve ended that outburst.
The two teams exchanged serves — and then the hosts hit another serve into the net. The Wildkits still trailed only 20-18, but couldn’t get over the hump after that.
“Maine East is a very solid team,” McDermott praised. “They play a very simple offensive system and they do a great job with it. Watch them on film and they don’t look like a team that will get far, but they have some magic to them. Their chemistry is good and their setter really knows how to distribute the ball.
“Those serves into the net have been a big problem for us all year. That’s probably the worst mistake you can make in volleyball because when you serve the ball into the net, you don’t give the other team the opportunity to make a mistake. We worked a lot on it — but it was like a pebble in our shoes all season.”
McDermott turned to two freshmen, Temple and Darius Hunt, when the Kits couldn’t get untracked Wednesday and the pair gained valuable experience at the end of the season. Their play, and the offensive potential of the high-flying junior hitter Smith, are reasons for optimism in the future for ETHS.
“These seniors were a great group of guys with some amazing volleyball talent, and we’ll miss them,” said the coach. “Next year we’ll be rebuilding, but we’ll be rebuilding with talent. The freshmen had a successful year and there’s tremendous talent in that class and in the 8th grade coming in.
“Of the guys we have coming back, I think Emmanuel has the potential to be one of the best hitters in the area. He has an unbelievable amount of experience — he’s been playing since he was in 4th grade — and now he needs to become more of a leader for us. If he can lead, we can be a very good team because we have some rising sophomores and some hard-working juniors coming back.”