Boys volleyball: Neuqua Valley edges Naperville NorthWild celebration breaks out on the Neuqua Valley side after the Wildcats scored their final point in a hard fought win over Naperville North. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 21, 2012 10:04PM
The Neuqua Valley boys volleyball players have been looking forward to Wednesday’s match against state runner-up Naperville North for almost a year, and the actual event lived up to their expectations.
After dropping the first set 25-20, the host Wildcats fought back and defeated the Huskies 25-19, 25-21 to win the match.
“I’m proud of our team,” said the Wildcats right-side hitter Jake Gerald, the only full-time starter returning from last year. “We were a little nervous at first and made some mental errors early, but we’re a scrappy team and our passing and defense got better in the second and third games.”
Gerald thought a key to the victory was that the Wildcats (2-0) ran their middles well, which also set up more solo opportunities on the outside.
“We have very athletic middles and that makes us unique,” Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. “Outside hitters usually lead in kills, but our leaders tonight were our middles and Jake on the right side. We can get kills from anywhere and that’s nice.”
Gerald and Connor Richardson, a middle hitter, who transferred back to Neuqua after attending Waubonsie Valley after his freshman year, led the Wildcats with nine kills apiece.
Richardson also had five blocks and his partner inside Joe Michael produced six kills and four blocks.
After splitting the first two sets, it looked like all Neuqua in Game 3 as the Wildcats jumped out to a 10-4 lead, with Richardson giving them a kill, a block and an ace in that span.
But then the Huskies (0-1) caught them at 13-13, and then went ahead and didn’t trail again until a Richardson kill gave the Wildcats a 21-20 advantage and they finished strong with four of the last five points.
“We want to make a run at state this year,” Richardson said. “That third game was a good show of what we can do. Everyone can hit, but when our passing is on we’re good. We were just motivated to come back.”
Wildcats setter Ryan Cahill chalked up 27 assists and Tommy Stevens and Trey Dimond served three aces each.
For Naperville North it was a disappointing season-opener but coach Nate Bornancin is confident his team can bounce back.
“It was our first game of the year, and we played like it was our first game of the year,” said Bornancin. “We have five new starters on the floor so our communications will improve. There were flashes of greatness, though they were few and far between. Neuqua Valley is a good team to play in your first match, so you can see where you are as a team. They play with a lot of fire and emotion and they’re going to have a good season.”
Spencer Sauter was the big gun for the Huskies with a game-high 15 kills, and Matt Jennings added six. Gert Lisha and Kyle Losik were the dig leaders with eight each and Lisha dealt 32 assists.