There aren’t many favorable matchups in high school volleyball when you’re a 5-foot-6 outside hitter who admits to actually being a half inch shorter than that.
But Kennedy Freeman found a way to deliver some much needed offense for Evanston Saturday in the final match of the Niles West Invitational tournament.
Freeman accounted for a season-high 6 kills and provided the energy the Wildkits needed to trip Warren 25-21, 25-22 and salvage 7th place overall at the 16-team tourney.
That victory came on the heels of a humbling 25-5, 25-20 loss to Stevenson earlier in the second place bracket. ETHS finished with a 3-2 tourney record and moved to 8-6 overall.
For Freeman, the only down note came because she wasn’t actually on the floor when the Kits finished off the win. The junior dynamo was nursing a swollen lip after being accidentally elbowed in the face by teammate Izzi Darrah while fighting off a comeback try by Warren in the second set.
“The ball was over the net and I didn’t see Izzy coming over from the right side. But it’s OK because we won the point,” Freeman shrugged. “And the timing was right because I was due to come out of the rotation (for a substitute server), anyway.
“Being a small hitter (one with a 26 inch vertical jump), you have to play smart and not just go up and swing hard every time. I really felt motivated today. We’ve been on a little bit of a losing streak — that loss to Stevenson was embarrassing — and I wanted that to end.
“I’ve been working hard in practice, and I try to be loud and encourage the other players even whether or not I’m on the court.”
Freeman found a way against a Warren squad that is one of the shorter opponents (no player over 5-11) the Wildkits will face this season. “This was a good matchup for her,” said Evanston head coach Liz Brieva. “Thank goodness it was her turn to come out when she got hurt, because we didn’t have any other outside hitters to put in for her.
“She’s really been working hard in practice, and what I like about her is that she comes in there with some fight to her. She’s not playing it safe. She gave us some toughness today and we need to be tougher as a team, because we have the mindset that we shut down when we’re playing against competitive (top) teams. We take ourselves right out of games with that mindset.”
Evanston rallied from a 16-13 deficit in the first set against Warren, when a block by Ashley Ruder triggered run of 9 straight points for the Kits. Freeman contributed a pair of kills during that run, Rileigh Farragher added back-to-back ace serves, and kills by Freeman and Darrah accounted for the 24th and 25th points.
The two teams were deadlocked at 21-all when Freeman was knocked out of the action by her own classmate in the second set. But Darrah scored the go-ahead point on that play, and Kate Van Ert’s set for a Farragher kill set the stage for consecutive errors by Warren that closed out the match.
Evanston opened pool play on Friday with wins over Chicago Taft (25-18, 25-22) and Lake Zurich (25-16, 25-22) and a loss to Buffalo Grove (25-14, 25-19). But Saturday morning’s matchup with Stevenson marked the second straight collision between the two squads in a weekend tournament, and it turned into a ballhandling nightmare for ETHS.
The losers faltered badly in the serve receive department as the Patriots were credited with a total of 10 aces, including 6 by senior Abby Keevins.
The lopsided first set found Evanston muster just 5 points, a season low.
“We’re not focused and we’re not fighters. We have a lot of work to do,” Brieva pointed out. We dug ourselves into a real hole against Stevenson. We need to have better passing, better everything.”