High school volleyball coaches can take a variety of approaches when their teams are struggling at the service line like Evanston has this season.
Some will resort to having their players focus completely on that aspect of the game in practice.
Others will shy away from the issue, figuring it will do more damage mentally if they keep reminding their players about constant mistakes.
ETHS first-year head coach Mallory Thelander probably falls somewhere in the middle of those two philosophies. But Thelander — superstitious as any veteran coach — didn’t want to be quoted about that aspect of the game even though the Wildkits counted a remarkable 9 service aces in Monday night’s 25-12, 25-11 spanking of Elk Grove Village in the opening round of the Class 4A Evanston Regional tournament.
Now 11-25 overall, No. 15 seed Evanston will meet No. 2 sectional seed Hersey Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Evanston’s issues at the service line have prevented the Kits from getting untracked on offense in many matches this season. But the winners only missed one serve Monday night and four different players —Samm Kaiser, Holly Desmond, Clara Siebert and Molly Conover — were credited with aces.
Thelander, whose squad has now won 5 of their last 7 matches, preferred to focus on the energy a large home crowd and her own players brought to the table at Beardsley Gym.
That team energy dynamic was what the new coach thought was the best thing the Wildkits had going for them coming into the season, before the losses started piling up.
“I won’t talk about our serving. But when we have the kind of energy we had tonight, and we believe in ourselves, that’s when we play well as a team,” Thelander pointed out. “We had a huge crowd tonight and that helped the girls play well as a unit. If only a small number of girls, only 2 or 3 at a time, have energy then it’s hard to keep it going.
“Tonight there was a whole new energy and excitement level because it’s the (state) playoffs. And the three girls we brought up from the JV team (sophomores Maya Mahoney, Siena Prokopenko and Erin Eddy) gave us more energy, too.”
Two early aces by Kaiser sparked ETHS to an early lead in the first set and Siebert found open court on three straight service attempts to build an 18-8 advantage en route to an easy win.
In the second set, Kaiser finished off the match with another ace. The junior setter played one of her best all-around matches of the season, feeding outside hitter Claire Berne for most of her team-high 9 kills. Holly Desmond chipped in 4 kills and Siebert and Rosemary Gibbons each added 3.
“For Samm, it’s all about telling herself what to do and when to do it,” said Thelander. “Her feet don’t always follow through, moving when the brain tells them to. It’s all about her playing focused. She was very focused tonight, and I’d say that was one of her top 3 matches of the season.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.