Special to Illprepvb.com
Lincoln-Way West is like “The Little Engine That Could.”
What the Warriors lack in height, they make up with hustle and determination. That showed on Tuesday as they rallied from a big deficit in the second set and defeated Lockport Township 25-16, 26-24 in a key Southwest Suburban Conference matchup at the Lockport Central Campus.
West (23-7, 4-0) has one starter, Louden Moran, who stands 6-foot-4 inches. The Porters (17-8, 1-2), on the other hand, started five players 6-foot-3 or taller.
“Generally, being a small team we have to rely on other aspects,” Warrior outside hitter Ben Pluskota said. “Being 5-foot-10, I know I can’t smash the ball every time, so I have to place it. We knew we had to block well because they block well. But we also pass the ball very well.
“Most of it [his jumping ability] is natural. But I’ve also worked out lately and that helps.”
Pluskota, one of nine juniors on the team, led the Warriors with 8 kills. Moran and fellow rightside hitter Jack Ryan, who is one of two West seniors, each added 4 kills. Outside hitter Brandyn Cullin is the other senior. Libero Tyler Vedder (11 digs) is the only sophomore on the team.
David Flores (16 assists, 3 kills, 3 aces) was in control from his setter position.
The Warriors did all this despite not having two of their middles – 6-foot-2 Chris Dargan and 6-foot-7 Jack Hrvatin – who did not play for various reasons.
“I just try my best to get to every ball and my teammates just follow the lead,” Flores said. “We feel we can get to everything. We know where everyone is at on the court.
“At the end we just had a bunch of key serves and kept our heads.”
Lockport led nearly the whole second set and used a 7-2 spurt to take a 22-15 lead. The Warriors however, rallied with 6 straight points.
Cullen started it with a kill and then served an ace. Ryan rammed a block and then the Porters had three straight errors as West closed within a point. Sophomore middle hitter Jake Maly had a block to make it 23-21, but Lockport committed two straight hitting errors and the set was tied for the first time since 5-5.
Senior opposite side hitter Patrick Surane smacked a kill to give the Porters a set point. But Pluskota pounded a kill and Moran mashed two in a row as West completed the comeback and got a measure of revenge from a 25-22, 25-16 loss to Lockport in the same gym last season.
“This team is a bunch of fighters,” Lincoln-Way West coach Jodi Frigo said. “We’re used to playing the big teams. We’ve got in the big tournaments like Wheaton Warrenville South, the Smack Attack and the Lincoln-Way East Tournament. Lockport has taken (Lincoln-Way) East to three set (twice). But this tough schedule can only help prepare us.”
Trailing 3-2 in the opening set, the Warriors took the lead for good on a 5-0 run as Flores found the holes in the serve receive for a pair of aces. Ahead 13-9, Pluskota and Ryan had kills in a 4-0 spurt and Lockport never got closer than 7 points the rest of the set.
Senior outside hitter Kyle Dixon had a match-high 9 kills for Lockport. But senior setter/opposite side hitter Anthony Pfeiffer (10 assists) was limited to 3 kills. Sophomore setter Jacob Prince (10 assists), junior libero Alex Matteucci (13 digs) and junior middle hitter Jake Whyte (3 blocks) also contributed for the Porters.
Although the two high schools are just over eight miles away from each other, the teams are in different sectionals. Lockport is in the Brother Rice Sectional, while the Warriors are in the Minooka Sectional.
“It didn’t feel like it in the first set,” Lockport coach Nick Mraz said when asked if it felt like this was a sectional atmosphere. “We went out and let a good team walk all over us. Hands down, that was the most disappointing set we played all season.
“That (Lincoln-Way West) is a good team. They win with defense and they’re smart. On our side, we just couldn’t finish (in Game 2). Our last two swings were tips and in the meantime they (Warriors) are ripping. We have to attack the ball. That was not a good way to end it.”