Lake Park’s soul-searching leads to gold-clinching

After losing to Neuqua Valley in the championship match at the Tiger Classic and falling to Glenbard West in the semifinals at Springfest, Lake Park took a little collective inventory.

“We’ve kind of been doing some soul-searching as a team the last few weeks,” Lake Park coach Brian Fischer said. “We haven’t been clicking the way I think … and they think also … the way we should. We talked about things in practice. We looked at the goals that we want to accomplish and how to accomplish them.”

Lake Park (18-2) took a significant step toward achieving those goals Saturday, rallying from a 20-18 deficit in Game 1 to defeat streaking New Trier 25-22, 25-22 and win the Richard Griesheim Invitational at Downers Grove South.

“I’m very proud of the way they came out here this weekend,” Fischer said. “We finally played together as a team. It was a full effort … from blocking, to serving. I was very pleased with it.”

Lake Park had to play catch-up throughout the first set against New Trier. But the Lancers pulled within 20-19 to send 6-foot-7 outside hitter Nick Martinski to the service line. The hard-serving Martinski served 3 consecutive points without benefit of an ace to give Lake Park its first leads of the match.

“You don’t really need to have aces to win games,” Martinski said. “You just got to keep the ball in play and let them make errors. That’s kind of what we did. We all came together as a team, played hard and really focused …  hunkered down. We stepped up as a whole.

“And we really wanted it,” he added.

A tip over the block by New Trier’s 6-4 sophomore Colin Heath pulled the Trevians within 23-22, but 6-3 middle Austin Bayner and 6-3 outside hitter Jordan Haigh combined on a block on the right side and Bayner stuffed a New Trier kill attempt over the middle on the next point to claim the first set for the Lancers.

Lake Park led nearly start to finish in Game 2, building a 17-12 lead on a Martinski block before New Trier (13-4) made one last desperate push to close within 20-18. But a dump by Lake Park setter Bob Sampson and a Martinski kill ended the match.

“We finally found ourselves this weekend,” Martinski said. “We knew that we were in there. We just had to play as a team. We finally found the right energy, the right groove that we need to be in. That’s going to help us moving forward.”

Martinski finished with 8 kills, 3 blocks and an ace to lead lake Park, which reached the finals by defeating shorthanded Plainfield North 25-15, 25-18. The Tigers (16-4) lost setter Matt Richmond for four weeks when he tore a ligament in his ankle Friday night.

Haigh added 7 kills, and Nic Carzoli, who made the move to libero from outside hitter in the preseason, anchored the defense with 7 digs.

“All of us in have confidence in everybody on the court,” Carzoli said.  “One thing that coach (Fischer) preaches is energy. We keep our energy on the court throughout the match.”

New Trier had won 11 of its last 12 matches entering the championship match after beating Loyola 25-14, 25-22 in the semifinals.

“Lake Park has a really nice team,” New Trier coach Sue Ellen Haak said. “They’re senior-strong and very confident. They threw a couple of things at us that we hadn’t seen before, which is excellent for us because we’ve been winning playing basic volleyball.

“We need to serve a little tougher, we need to practice receiving different types of serves and we need a little for more variety in our offense,” she added. “Those are easy things to fix. “

Loyola (14-9), which upset second-seeded Barrington 26-24, 25-23 in the first match of the day, finished third by defeating Plainfield North 25-15, 25-17.

“When you look at our nine losses, eight of them are against top 10 teams,” Loyola coach Lionel Ebeling said. “So, it’s a lot of competition.”

Loyola also had to overcome the loss of 6-5 junior outside hitter Jack Howard to injury and the acclimation of freshman libero Ryan Merk and 6-3 sophomore outside hitter John Hitt to varsity ball.

“Those are all Division I volleyball players, so this is great exposure for them,” Ebeling said. “We’ve taken some lumps, but when we get to the playoffs we’ll be better able to match up against New Trier. It’s all about experience right now.”

Barrington (17-5) bounced back from the loss to Loyola to beat Hinsdale Central 25-15, 21-25, 25-22 and Warren 25-16, 25-21 and take fifth place.

“The guys had a very appropriate level of disappointment after that first match,” Barrington coach Rob Ridenour said. “They showed a lot of toughness. We did some nice things the last two matches. The best thing about today is the bounce-back and seeing that we had the right level of disappointment after that first match.”

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