Downers Grove North’s Elizabeth Dunlap, Margaret Mahlke, Jade Casper and Maddie DeGiorgio.
Marian Catholic is sporting a spattering of new faces this season, like 5-foot-7 sophomore setter London Hatch, 5-9 freshman outside hitter Jordan Walker and 6-0 sophomore middle hitter Nnedi Okabuonye.
So it’s not surprising that the Spartans leaned on a couple of old reliables to push past Downers Grove North in both teams’ season opener Tuesday in Downers Grove.
Five-foot-10 senior outside hitter Lauren Hatch had 15 kills and 4 aces, and 6-2 senior outside hitter Temitayo Thomas-Ailara added 15 kills, an ace and a block as Marian Catholic rallied from an 8-4 deficit in Game 3 to beat the Trojans 21-25, 25-21, 26-24.
“Yeah, we’re pretty OK from the outside,” Marian Catholic coach Ryan Summers said. “I did not expect Temi to start the game with three hitting errors, but everybody’s human and obviously she made up for it the rest of the match.
“We’re going to need both of those kids to play well for us to be successful,” the coach added. “Fortunately, I think both of them are going to play well more often than not.
“I’m just going to sit on the bench and clap,” he said.
The match featured long runs by both sides. Downers Grove North broke a 16-16 tie in Game 1 with a 6-1 spurt, Marian Catholic broke a 9-9 tie in Game 2 with a 10-4 outburst, and the Spartans used a 10-1 run to build an 18-14 lead in Game 3.
“Too many runs,” Downers Grove North coach Mark Wasik said. “If we would have won that third game, he (Summers) would have said the same thing because we went on a number of runs, too. Some of the runs they had against us were self-inflicted.”
Downers North did erase a 22-19 deficit in Game 3 with a mini 3-0 outburst of its own to pull even at 22-22 on a dump kill by setter Elizabeth Dunlap. The game was also tied at 23-23 and 24-24.
That’s when Lauren Hatch put the finishing touches on the Spartan victory with a kill followed by an ace on match point.
“I kept thinking, ‘We can’t lose. We can’t lose our first match,’” Hatch said. “We can’t lose our first match. This is my senior year. We got to push through this, so we had to make sure we persevered and pushed through all the time.”
Hatch has confidence in the new faces in the Marian Catholic lineup. But she is also aware that she and Thomas-Ailara will have to shoulder much of the scoring burden while the young players get up to speed.
“We do have some really good front-row players who are developing really well, so that’s exciting,” she said. “In the meantime, me and Temi got to get it together.”
Downers North was led by Margaret Mahlke with 10 kills, 5 digs and an ace. Maddie DeGiorgio added 8 kills, Jade Casper had 5 kills, sophomore libero Madison Cuchran had 19 digs and Dunlap had 24 assists and a pair of aces.
“It’s the first match,” Wasik said. “You want to hope that they learn sooner rather than later to let go of mistakes faster and execute at a higher level quicker. But nobody’s playing this level of competition right off the bat. There was no warmup matches here.”
And about those Downers North runs that sealed Game 1 and almost pulled out Game 3?
“One of the things we been pushing in practice is, ‘Nobody makes runs against us. Nobody makes runs against us,’” Summers said. “We wanted to test that today. So, starting now, ‘Nobody makes runs against us.’”