Lake Zurich receives early wake-up call
Updated: August 30, 2011 7:33PM
The Lake Zurich High School girls volleyball team has a lot to be excited about.
The Bears return five starters from a 2010 team that won 33 matches and played for a sectional championship. Of course, that only matters this season if the girls build on that success.
But LZ didn’t get off to a good start this season, dropping a surprising 25-18, 25-14 decision to visiting Carmel on Aug. 23.
“We didn’t show up,” coach Matt Aiello said. “I think 36 of Carmel’s 50 points were off our unforced errors.”
While Aiello and the Bears were frustrated, they realized it was just one match in a long season.
“We’ve won 30 matches pretty consistently for the last five years, but we need to bring the intensity from the onset,” Aiello said. “It was a wake-up call. We did a little soul searching, but there was nothing to freak out about. I’d still put this team up against team I’ve ever had.”
Sure enough, Lake Zurich bounced back with a 25-18, 25-14 victory over Buffalo Grove on Aug. 26.
“We made some careless errors still but we were a little cleaner,” Aiello said. “Our first touch was a little better.”
New starter: Sophomore Kristin Walding is the Bears’ only new starter. The 6-foot setter saw limited time as a freshman playing behind senior Alex Hartman.
“Her teammates like playing with (Walding) and respect her right off the bat,” Aiello said. “The speed of the game is not overwhelming for her, and she’s improved drastically on the defensive end. She’s athletic, coachable and gives us some height at the net.”
Surplus of weapons: Walding enjoys the luxury of being able to set the ball to so many talented teammates.
It all starts with 5-11 senior outside hitter Amanda Orchard, one of the best players to come through Lake Zurich. She will play next year for the University of Pittsburgh. This summer, she was a key contributor on the Sky High Volleyball Club 17 Black team that won the AAU Girls National Volleyball Championships in Orlando. The team finished fifth at the USA Volleyball National Championship.
“I don’t want Amanda to over-think things this year,” Aiello said. “I just want her to play, have fun and let her hard work and ability take over.”
Junior middle blocker Layne Self (6-1) also had a banner summer for Sky High.
“She’s still in the process of realizing how good she is,” Aiello said. “She’s got one of the best jump serves in the area, and we’ll try to get her some swings this year on the outside. She doesn’t make a lot of errors and can flat out hit.”
If teams focus too much attention on Orchard and Self, senior outside hitter Natalie Gora can make them pay. In one match last year, Gora served 17 consecutive points.
“She can hit out of any position,” Aiello said. “She has developed a really nice control game.”
Junior Amelia Leng gives up some size in the middle, but makes up for it with her jumping ability.
“She’s a really good blocker,” Aiello said. “She plays within herself and can do a little bit of everything on the court.”
Senior Dori Darras plays out of the middle, but her versatility will allow Aiello to mix things up on offense.
“She gives us a number of different options,” he said.
Senior Ali Summers is back and will again lead the defense from the libero position.
“It can be a struggle to get a ball past her,” Aiello said. “It’s nice to have someone at that position so experienced on the court.”
Senior Shannon McPeek, sophomore Kiley McPeek and junior transfer Nicole Morrissey will all see playing time. Morrissey played for Carmel last year.
“What I liked about our training camp was that there was a lot of good competition every day in practice,” Aiello said. “That is a big reason why we can be successful.”
Through two matches, Orchard led the Bears with 17 kills. She also had two aces and 16 digs. Gora and Self had nine and eight kills, respectively. Walding distributed 41 assists.
On the schedule: The Bears play in the Conant Early Bird Tournament Friday and Saturday.