Kauling, Neuqua Valley ace Naperville Central test

It began innocently enough in Game 1 with a kill by Neuqua Valley’s Jeremy Grove that gave the Wildcats a 9-7 lead after Naperville Central had fought back from an early 6-0 deficit.

But Grove’s kill also sent 6-foot-7 junior setter Kevin Kauling to the service line for the second time in the game, and Kauling made the Redhawks pay for their early foibles.

Kauling scattered five aces during a personal 10-0 service run, and most of his other serves led to free balls lollipopped over the net as Naperville Central struggled to serve-receive and mount any meaningful offense.

Game 2 was a little tighter, but Neuqua Valley prevailed to take home a 25-14, 25-18 victory in a DuPage Valley Conference match between two of the league’s heavyweights.

“We played really well, especially against a great program like Naperville Central,” Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. “They’ve always have excellent volleyball teams. It was good for our guys to come out the way we did, especially the way last week went.”

Neuqua Valley (15-2, 1-1 in the DuPage Valley) was coming off consecutive losses to Glenbard West in the finals of Springfest at Glenbard East and a surprising road loss to DuPage Valley Conference foe Metea Valley.

But thanks to Grove’s 10 kills and Kauling’s 7 aces, the Wildcats were able to overcome their mid-season blues Tuesday.

“It just clicked after my first two serves,” Kauling said of his long service run. “Once I get going, the more I get, the harder I rip it.”

If consecutive losses weren’t enough to inspire Neuqua Valley, the Wildcats’ familiarity with their opponents added more incentive.

“We know a lot of (Naperville Central’s players) by playing club against them,” Kauling said. “We were a little pumped up play them.”

Naperville Central did little to aid its own case. The Redhawks were guilty of 11 service errors and 15 unforced errors during the match.

“We had five missed serves in the first set,” Naperville Central coach Roger Strausberger said. “Not even scoring a point or making them have to side out. Just go back and serve into the net or serve out of bounds and give it right back to them.

“We just make way too many errors to be considered a good team and to beat good teams right now,” he added. “It seems like we tend to be a big-play team where we make four or five big plays, but besides that, there’s not much going on.”

Naperville Central (11-5, 0-2 in the DuPage Valley Conference), which was stunned by Glenbard North last week, strung a few big plays together in the second set, getting kills from 6-foot rightside Tanner Stefani and 6-2 junior Matt Ranieri to cut a 17-11 deficit to 18-15.

But another service error, a kill by Neuqua Valley’s 5-11 outside hitter Mark Borghesi and a Carson Gentry ace ended any hopes of a comeback by the hosts.

“I felt like we didn’t come out and play hard enough (against Metea Valley),” Kauling said. “We just kind of motioned through it. It kind of stunk.

“Our goal now is to win our next five games, win the Benet tournament and get the No. 1 seed in the sectional,” Kauling said. “That’s our hope. We’ll do our best.”

Kauling had 13 assists, 3 digs and 7 aces for Neuqua Valley. Six-foot-6 junior middle hitter Jeremy Cardenas added 5 kills.

Naperville Central got 7 kills from 6-4 outside hitter John Davis.

“I really was hoping that we were going to be more be ready for battle tonight, but we just did not come out to battle,” Strausberger said. “We knew Neuqua Valley is a good team. It’s disappointing.”

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