Evanston’s girls volleyball team probably wouldn’t have won this match a year ago.

But Coach Liz Brieva’s squad is determined to prove this year will be different in a program that has endured losing seasons in 6 of the past 7 years.

The Wildkits improved to 2-0 Wednesday night with a 28-26, 25-23 victory over Jones Prep of Chicago in their season debut at Beardsley Gymnasium.

The Kits thrilled the home crowd with a come-from-behind effort in the second set and showed the mental toughness that Brieva’s been seeking since she moved up from assistant coach to head coach last season.

Junior Kate Van Ert’s 7 kills and 4 assists combined with senior Rileigh Farragher’s 5 kills and 9 assists to lead the winners, who are off to a solid start despite having so many new faces on the roster.

Something else that’s new is the true grit the Wildkits displayed down the stretch of both sets, matching a scrappy Jones team almost play-for-play on defense and refusing to get discouraged during stretches in which the visitors handled almost everything the ETHS offense threw at them.

Brieva admitted in the aftermath that this is a match her team likely would have come up short in a year ago.

“They have definitely raised their level of play this year,” said the second-year head coach. “They’re a smarter team now and they worked very, VERY hard in the off-season.

“Tonight they just kept fighting through every single point. They worked together, and they didn’t give up. It’s really good to see all of that hard work paying off for them. I saw our back row really communicating well (on defense), and both Rileigh (Farragher) and Kate (Van Ert) brought the team up at different points in the match.”

Wildkit fans were probably expecting a longer night — with another set to follow — after ETHS fell behind 21-18 in the second set on a kill by Jones’ Noel Gaston.

Instead, Evanston’s girls sent the home crowd home happy by outscoring the Eagles 7-2 the rest of the way. After a Jones ballhandling error, outside hitter Emma Hinterhauser delivered back-to-back kills — her only kills of the night — and pulled the hosts into a 21-21 deadlock.

Van Ert and Ashley Ruder combined for a block point, and Farragher set up Van Ert for a kill and a 23-21 Evanston lead. The pair also produced the final two points of the match with a kill apiece.

In the first set, strong serving from the host team included aces by Mary Henthorn and Aliyah Valentine (3 in the same rotation) to stake ETHS to a 20-11 advantage. But Jones stayed in the match with stellar defense, and pulled back into a 26-25 lead when the Evanston defense didn’t communicate on what turned out to be an ace serve for the visitors.

Evanston didn’t fold. A missed spike attempt got the serve back, and the Kits seized on that opening to nail down the set on two more Jones mistakes.

Evanston will face its stiffest test of the young season this weekend at the Crosstown Volleyball Classic tournament hosted jointly by Libertyville and Warren. The Wildkits will take on Wheeling, Vernon Hills and Warren in pool play Friday at Warren beginning at 5 p.m.

First and second place finishers in pool play will compete on Saturday at Libertyville, with third and fourth place finishers competing at Warren.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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