Evanston’s volleyball team finally broke through for its first conference victory Wednesday night at Niles North. But first-year head coach Mallory Thelander says there are more to come.
The Wildkits snapped out of a skid that featured losses in 6 of 7 previous matches this season by prevailing by a 25-19, 23-25, 25-14 margin over Niles North in the first Central Suburban League South division matchup between the two schools. Niles North moved to the South division this year for the first time, replacing Waukegan in a new conference alignment that also included Vernon Hills’ entry to the North division.
Now 6-13 overall, the Wildkits found a way to win after a slow start to the season for a young and inexperienced squad that featured no returning starters from a year ago. A balanced attack led by senior Yngride Jean-Phillipe (8 kills), Rosemary Gibbons (7 kills, 2 blocks, 2 ace serves ), Clara Siebert (6 kills, 3 blocks, 2 aces) and Claire Berne (5 kills) made the difference for the Kits following conference losses to Glenbrook South, New Trier and Maine South to open CSL South play.
“I think we gained a lot of confidence tonight,” said Thelander. “There are no super teams in the league this year and we can compete with anybody out there. I’ve told the girls before that it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net, that we’ve been our own worst enemy because of all the unforced errors we’ve made.
“No matter who we play, if we make the least amount of unforced errors, we can be successful. We just have to start believing in ourselves — and stop beating ourselves.”
Outside hitters Gibbons, Siebert and Berne gave ETHS the edge on offense for most of Wednesday’s match, and when setter Samm Kaiser started working the middle attack with the 5-foot-9 Jean-Phillipe, the Vikings had no chance in the final set.
The hosts also missed 5 serves in the crucial third set, and those miscues helped the Kits earn a 15-6 advantage. Ace serves by Siebert and Reed Frazel helped close out the win.
“We made a couple of position switches and I think that’s really helped us to have more competition at outside hitter,” Thelander pointed out. “Our outside hitters all played way better tonight. We moved Holly Desmond to outside hitter to get her on the court more — she played really well against Maine South on Monday and she earned the chance to start. Yngride played out of her mind tonight, and Caitlin Sweeney was awesome stepping in for us in the back row, too.
“We’ve been focused on getting the ball in the middle more, but Yngride doesn’t have much experience and she wasn’t taking her approaches right away when she had the chance. Now that she’s getting more experience, she’s excited about getting set and the setters are looking for her more. We do a lot better if we spread the wealth on offense.”
The visitors almost pulled off a comeback win in the second set. ETHS trailed 23-18 but closed within 23-21 on kills by Gibbons and Siebert, plus a hitting error by the Vikings. Later, Kaiser fed Berne for a kill that cut the deficit to a single point, but the Wildkits were whistled for a net violation for the 25th point.
Evanston never looked back in the final set after building leads of 7-2, 13-4 and 15-6 over the hosts.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.