Downers Grove North coach Mark Wasik said his team would not have found a way back from a 14-9 deficit in Game 2 of its regional championship match against Waubonsie Valley Wednesday at Hinsdale Central had the match been played earlier this season.
But this isn’t the same Downers North team.
“I’m not happy that we’re showing a little bit of tendency to get down in Game 2 after winning Game 1,” Wasik said. “But I told my assistant as long as we can get to 15-15, we’ll be OK the rest of the way because then they’re going to start feeling the pressure.”
The Trojans did come all the way back, using an 8-2 run to take a 17-16 lead on a kill from Paul Novosyolov. That was enough to send the Trojans to a 28-26, 25-22 victory and a berth in Friday’s sectional semifinals at Wheaton Warrenville South.
JP Tulacka led No. 5 seed Downers North (29-7) with eight kills and three blocks, Troy Krafthefer (block) and Novosyolov (two blocks) each added six kills and Zack Parik had 21 assists, three blocks, three kills and an ace.
Parik had consecutive blocks to end Game 1, and Tulacka’s block gave Downers North a 23-20 lead in Game 2. The 6-foot-6 senior middle then ended the match with thunderous slam that might have left an indentation on the floor.
But it wasn’t offense that sent Downers North to Friday’s sectional semifinal, it was defense.
“Everybody on the team contributed to the defense,” Tulacka said. “It wasn’t just one star on defense. We knew they were outside-oriented. We talked to our rightside hitters before the game and told them if we’re going to win the game, it would be because of them and their blocking.
“They picked it up, they stepped it up and they won it for us,” he added.
Sophomore Mike Simmons had eight kills and Mike Storm and Jon Pyne each had five kills to lead fourth-seeded Waubonsie Valley (26-9), but the Trojans got their hands on enough balls to earn second-chance opportunities that they converted into points.
“Blocking was huge,” Wasik said. “We knew coming in Waubonsie’s outsides are their bread-and-butter. That’s who they go to. We knew our rightside blockers and middle blockers had to be big in closing their blocks.
“Storm and Simmons are going to get their kills because they’re great players,” he added. “But just to contain them the way we did was enough to put us over the top.”
Waubonsie Valley squandered an opportunity to take an early lead against Downers North when it was unable to convert leading 24-23 and 25-24 in Game 1. Both times, the Trojans fought off set point by going to the middle for quick hitters.
The Warriors then fought off a set point at 26-25 before Parik came up with consecutive blocks on the outside.
“We knew they were going to go to the middle,” Waubonsie Valley coach Al Lagger said. “Blocking-wise, they were on Storm all night. He couldn’t figure out how to get it around them or over them. It wasn’t his fault. They were on him tonight. They had his number.
“What can you do? If you had told me at the beginning of the season this is where we’d be … I’m happy. The kids played hard. They played as good as they could. Different things just happened the wrong way. It just wasn’t our night.”