Benet provides another learning experience for young Downers Grove North

Benet coach Jeff Steinberg cautioned before Wednesday’s game at Downers Grove North that the Trojans are a team that is only going to get better as the season progresses.

He just hoped they didn’t get too good too soon.

The Redwings rebounded from a strong second-set effort by the hosts and used a 6-1 run midway through the third to break a 12-12 tie and defeat the Trojans 25-16, 21-25, 25-21.

Downers Grove North gave Benet everything Steinberg expected … and more.

“They played really well,” he said. “They have a big block. Their outsides and middles were strong. They have a real scrappy defense. I felt like our offense was doing what it was supposed to do, they were just picking everything up.

“But we stuck to our system of volleyball and it paid off in the end,” he added. “Our boys didn’t get frazzled. They kept playing and committed to it. There were a couple of calls that didn’t go our way and in the past we’d let that get to us. This time we didn’t.”

Benet (14-6) took command early in the first set and built a 19-10 lead that proved too great for Downers Grove North to overcome. The second set was a different story, however.

The Trojans broke an 18-18 deadlock on kills by 6-foot-1 junior Griffen Liszka, 6-3 outside hitter Michael Price and 6-8 middle hitter Owen Wahlgren. A Wahlgren kill closed out the game after his block gave the hosts set point at 24-20.         

“They picked up their game, but we just kind of went back on our heels,” Benet’s 6-2  outside hitter John Folts said. “We won the first set and we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll win the second.’ That’s not how it works. You have to keep fighting.”

Benet took an early 12-9 lead in the third set, but Downers North took advantage of three consecutive Benet miscues to tie Game 3 at 12-12.

However, a kill by Benet’s 6-2 freshman outside hitter Auggie Mazza sparked a 6-1 run that allowed the visitors to side out the remainder of the set.

Folts led Benet with 8 kills, 6-5 middle hitter Connor Simchak added 7 kills and 2 blocks, Mazza had 4 kills and 3 blocks and 5-10 setter Tommy Kmieciak spread the wealth with 22 assists.

“I feel like we’re getting better every week,” Folts said. “All the hours we put in practice definitely helps, but we’re really getting a lot of the challenges on the court and it’s allowing us to see what we need to work, see what we do well and improve on all those things.”

Price had a team-best 10 kills for Downers Grove North, which lost eight contributing seniors from last year’s sectional finalist and has been gaining experience on the fly against a schedule that has included top 20 teams like Naperville Central, Glenbard West and Wheaton North.

“Our schedule is one where there is no opportunity to take a breath, and so we have to learn and overcome and respond and execute at the moment against high-level opponents,” Downers North coach Mark Wasik said.

“That’s something you want so that it becomes a normal later, but sometimes with developing teams there’s no rest for the weary,” he added. “You just have to keep grinding it out and stay positive. I’m learning myself to keep it positive because I have expectations for these guys.”

The Trojans can meet some of their coach’s expectations this weekend at the Richard Griesheim Invitational hosted by Downers Grove South, where Downers North is seeded ninth in the 24-team field.  

“I do believe this is a nice team,” Wasik said. “The baseline is there, the experience is not … across the board. But they’re a fun group and I like the path we’re on.”

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