The Bengals took the court against the Tigers less than 24 hours after losing 6-4 setter David Herrera to appendicitis. Herrera is expected back by regionals, meanwhile, Plainfield East is adjusting to a 6-2 alignment with 5-10 junior Jake Simpson and 5-10 senior Brian O’Malley-Molk filling in.
Thursday, Plainfield East improved to 24-2 and 9-1 in the Southwest Prairie Conference, defeating Minooka 25-21, 25-20 in Plainfield.
“It’s different,” said Plainfield East’s 6-4 outside hitter Trey Cowan about the Bengals’ switch at setter. “They’re very good setters, they’re just a lot smaller than David is. The timing and stuff like that is different, but I think we’re starting to get used to it.”
Cowan & Co. needed time Thursday to adjust to Minooka’s tandem of 6-4 junior Alginon Lewis-Fregeau (10 kills, 1 block), and 6-2 sophomore Shane Ooms (5 kills), who staked the Indians (11-14, 5-5 in the Southwest Prairie Conference) to a 17-15 lead in Game 1.
But Cowan rallied the Bengals, and his emphatic putaway of an overpass at set point capped a 10-4 closing run by the hosts.
“It took me a while to get going, but I started to see that their block wasn’t that good and there were shots there,” he said.
The second game was more of a see-saw affair, with the teams trading jabs until a Minooka service error ignited an 8-2 finishing burst by the Bengals. The Indians surrendered the final 2
points on a net violation and a hitting error.
“So close, always so close,” Minooka coach Mike Kargle said. “It’s the story of our season.
“Yet this was by far the most complete game that we’ve played all year,” he added. “You just have to give Plainfield East credit. They do everything they’re supposed to do with a senior-heavy team. They find ways to win. They find ways to exploit your inexperience.”
The Dominican University-bound Cowan led Plainfield East with 13 kills. Six-foot-3 senior Nathan Mason contributed 5 kills and 2 blocks, 6-2 senior Erik Gerulskis had 5 kills, senior libero Nick Cozza contributed 11 digs and O’Malley-Molk and Simpson split 22 assists.
“Like I’ve said before, this team has got all the athletic ability, but that’s third on the list behind their chemistry and their commitment to each other,” Plainfield East coach Alex Rodriguez said. “Those far surpass their athletic ability.
“This is a closely-knit group,” he added. “When you put that together with their athletic ability, it makes it hard for other teams to compete.”
Six-foot-4 junior Noah Easter added 2 kills and 4 blocks for Minooka, which also got 8 digs from sophomore libero Caden Ritchey, 2 kills and 2 blocks from sophomore Evan Faifer, and 18 assists from sophomore setter Rafael Vieyra.
“These are our growing stages,” Kargle said. “Some people like to call them growing pains, but we like to refer to them as growing stages. Everything we do on the court … during practice, in games … we’re learning.
“I can’t ask anything more from the guys,” he added. “We come out here and give it our all every night and see where the chips fall.”
Meanwhile, Plainfield East hopes to use its success at Smack Attack as a springboard to even bigger things down the road.
“It made us realize that we can hang with the tough teams,” Cowan said. “It opened all of our eyes and showed that we’re actually competing for state this year. That’s our goal.”