Minooka volleyball states its caseMinooka's Rick Bishop (11) celebrates in the air after winning Tuesday night's IHSA sectional final match against Belleville East. | Paul James Bergstrom ~ Sun-Times Media
Minooka right-side hitter Rick Bishop cited a reason for the Indians’ mistake-plagued beginning in Tuesday night’s Romeoville Sectional championship boys volleyball match against Belleville East.
“We were a little nervous, a little scared at first,” the senior said after his explosive third game lifted Minooka to a 15-25, 25-22, 25-23 victory. “When you have a chance to get to state, you can understand being nervous.”
“There was a lot of pressure tonight,” junior setter Phil Hannon agreed. “We came in thinking they (Lancers) may not be all that, and they proved us way wrong.”
But all was well that ended well. The Indians (36-2) have not lost since March 30. They will take a 31-match winning streak to the state quarterfinals at Hoffman Estates, where they will tangle with St. Rita (25-14) at 2 p.m. Friday.
The trip to state is Minooka’s second under coach Janel Grzetich. Her 2010 team, which was 24-12-2, won its quarterfinal over St. Patrick in three games and finished fourth.
“I’m really looking forward to playing at state,” Hannon said. “I hope we can do better than fourth.”
The 6-foot-4 Bishop ended the sectional final with 15 kills, giving him 268 for the season. It is difficult to fathom Minooka going further along the tournament trail without him being a force.
However, he is not a one-man show.
“This team has quite a few differences from the 2010 team,” Grzetich said, choosing her words carefully. “This team is quieter, and it seems this team has even more ... ”
“Maybe that’s a good word for it,” she said. “But what I am trying to say is this is a great all-around team instead of a team with one superstar and a lot of good players. I feel the all-around talent on this team is outstanding.”
Hannon is a skilled setter as his 781 assists will attest. Senior Adam Holstine is a quality libero.
But what completes the puzzle for the Indians is the array of hitters with whom Hannon works. Tuesday, he clicked with Bishop.
“It’s such a good feeling to have a great connection with a hitter,” Hannon said. “When he gets going like that, he brings all our motivation way up.
“But at state we definitely are going to need all our hitters.”
Senior outside hitter Nick Vertin is second on the team with 176 kills and junior outside hitter Matt Svetletich is next with 169. Junior middle blocker Maalik Walker has 142, sophomore middle blocker Justin Toth 69 and senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Ryan Bauer 44.
The Indians seldom look up to an opponent. Toth is 6-foot-9, Walker 6-6, Svetletich 6-4 and Vertin and Bauer 6-2. Add Bishop to that mix, and it’s evident why the Indians are nasty at the net.
Minooka’s early-season losses were 25-20, 25-18 to Lincoln-Way East and 25-16, 25-13 to Moeller (Ohio) in consecutive games at the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic. The victory over Belleville East marked the sixth time all season the Indians needed three games to win.
The slow start they experienced Tuesday, though, was unusual and happened thanks in no small part to what Belleville East had to offer.
“We expected them to be talented and good, but we did not expect that talented and good,” Grzetich said.
At state, there will be no surprises. The eight quarterfinalists are there for a reason.
While St. Rita has lost 14 times, the Mustangs have played a quality schedule. They split with Providence, which Minooka beat in three games to win the Lockport Regional. Like Minooka, St. Rita lost to Lincoln-Way East in two games. The two quarterfinal combatants beat Joliet Catholic and Lockport in two games and by similar scores.
In other words, it shapes up as a struggle that could come down to which side handles the pressure better, which makes fewer mistakes.
Asked where her team found the motivation it needed to rebound from its start against Belleville East, Grzetich said, “Our kids did this themselves. They create motivation on the court.
“Rick Bishop had an outstanding game. But we did need to figure out a way to clean up our mistakes. Our serve-receive was scary in Game 1.”
Scary is something the Indians intend to leave at home this weekend.