Izzi Darrah had more opportunities to serve than to hit Thursday night at Glenbrook North.
Sometimes that’s the fate of middle hitters in high school volleyball, since they’re rarely the focus of any team’s offense and the swings they do get sometimes come from an opponents’ poor passes.
But Darrah delivered when it mattered most down the stretch in the third set and helped Evanston snatch a 25-12, 21-25, 25-18 Central Suburban League South division victory from the host Spartans.
Evanston rallied from deficits of 10-1 and 17-10 in the decisive third set, as Darrah notched all 4 of her kills and also netted a block for a point during a closing run of 15-1 by the winners. Evanston improved to 9-7 on the season, 1-1 in league play, and passed a toughness test that was even more surprising than the late offensive surge by their junior middle hitter.
Rileigh Farragher put down a team-high 10 kills, Aliyah Valentine’s passing out of the back row helped the offense get untracked, and the Kits as a team served up 14 aces overall.
The dramatic ETHS come-from-behind triumph came in GBN’s first year of competing in the CSL South. The Spartans won 7 of the last 10 division championships competing in the CSL North and Thursday’s victory could turn out to be a signature win over a program known for long-term success.
Finally — finally — the Wildkits seem to have put it all together as a team.
“They have more highs and lows than any team I’ve ever seen,” said ETHS head coach Liz Brieva regarding her own squad. “But they were very tough tonight, especially in that third set.
“Our passing and our defense got better at the end of the match, and our focus came into play. Ellie Peterson’s serving gave us some momentum (she served 8 straight points, including a pair of aces). That was a positive force for us, and we just built on that.”
Working in tandem with junior setter Kate Van Ert, Darrah came alive after back-to-back aces by Peterson pulled the Kits to within 17-16. Darrah converted two sets from Van Ert into kills as the visitors moved to a 19-17 lead and never looked back.
The 6-foot junior added an exclamation point with a kill at the net for the match-clinching 25th point. She also racked up 6 ace serves in the first set, including 4 in a row.
“I think the turning point for us came when Kate was in the front row and that’s when we got our act together, with the setter and middle hitter connecting,” Darrah pointed out. “We were really connecting and we haven’t played together like that before this year. We fought so hard at the end, and it all came together.
“Our serving was really strong tonight. We haven’t come back from a big deficit like that before, and we made a lot of really good things happen tonight.”
“Izzi is such a smart middle hitter,” Brieva said. “She changed up her shots (against the North defense) and she really brought it for us tonight. And Rileigh is such a smart player, too, with the way she can find the holes in the defense and demoralize them.
“This was only our second conference match and I’m really happy they were able to prove to themselves that they have the capability to fight through difficulties.”