Lincoln-Way East clinched a share of its eighth straight SouthWest Suburban Conference title with a scintillating 22-25, 25-19, 25-23 victory over District 210 rival Lincoln-Way West on Tuesday evening, May 15 in Frankfort.
The league win is the 35th straight for the Griffins (31-3, 7-0), who finish up the conference schedule on Thursday at Sandburg. It’s also their 69th win in the past 70 conference matches. Their only loss in that time was 25-18, 21-25, 25-19 to Lockport Township on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Lockport Central campus.
West (25-8, 6-1) nearly broke the current streak, but the Warriors fell just short.
Senior Mike Herlihy led the way for East with nine kills and three blocks. Fellow middle hitters, junior Wil McPhillips (8 kills, 5 blocks) and senior Luis Zavala (3 blocks) also contributed for the Griffins.
“It was loud, it was exciting, it was crazy,” East Herlihy said. “But we’re really excited to keep that streak going, it was a goal of ours. West played really well and its defense is really good. But [down the stretch] it was 100 percent our experience that paid off. Being around all of this prepared us.”
East has been in the state finals the past two seasons and was runner-up to Glenbard West last year. The Warriors, who are in their ninth season of existence, have never a regional title. The Griffins are the top seed in the Brother Rice Sectional while West is seeded No. 2 seed in its sub-sectional portion of the Minooka Sectional. The two could potentially play each other in the state championship match.
“It didn’t end our season,” West coach Jodi Frigo said of the loss to East. “We’re peaking, we’re playing well. These guys all know each other and it was a fun match. I’m more worried about playing at a high level in the postseason. We had a couple of mistakes at the end, but all-in-all, I’m happy and we’ve improved.”
Junior Ben Pluskota (12 kills, 12 digs) and fellow outside hitter Brandyn Cullen (11 kills) were big for West. Junior right side hitter Louden Moran (7 kills), junior setter David Flores (29 assists), and sophomore libero Tyler Vedder (13 digs) also contributed for the Warriors.
The Griffins led 19-16 in the third set, but West came back to grab a 21-20 lead with East errors contributing to the last two points. Herlihy had a kill and McPhillips mashed a block to restore the Griffin lead to 22-21. Pluskota pounded a kill to tie it up, but another block by McPhillips and a West hitting error made it 24-22.
Pluskota had a kill to close the Warriors within a point. But senior outside hitter Ian Piet (7 kills), who had some earlier hitting errors, zipped the match winner down the middle and the Griffins celebrated another conference title.
“We’ve got a real big block and that played a big role,” McPhillips said. “There was a lot at stake. Coach [Kris Fiore] told us it was 34 straight matches going in, so we knew it was big. We still have to clean up a few things and work on our defense [for the postseason].”
In the opening set East led 17-14, but the Warriors went on a 6-0 spurt, with Cullen getting four consecutive kills in the middle, to take the lead for good. West had an early 4-2 advantage in the second set. But ahead 11-10 the Griffins went on a 9-2 burst to take control.
Junior setter Brent O’Donnell (19 assists), senior setter Jeremy Walsh (13 assists), and senior libero Blake Boykin (8 digs) also contributed for the Griffins, who held an alumni game afterward.
“it’s a conference match and it’s huge,” Fiore said. “We preached to the kids that we’d won 34 in a row [coming in] and it’s really important for us to get this. We knew that they were going to dig everything and we were going to play well at the net. We stuck it out, continued to play hard and got through it.”