Holly Desmond stood alone for a moment in the middle of the court, letting the fact that she had just played her final volleyball match in an Evanston uniform sink in.
That’s when the tears started to flow. But those tears came from a senior who did her best to keep the Wildkit season alive at the Class 4A Prospect Regional tournament Tuesday night.
Desmond delivered six straight points at the service line — including 3 aces — as part of a desperate comeback attempt in the second set against the No. 9 sectional seed, Palatine. But the Pirates were the team that advanced after holding off the No. 8 seeded Wildkits by a 25-22, 25-22 margin.
The season-ending loss in the regional semifinals dropped Evanston to 17-19 on the season. Palatine earned the right to play top-seeded New Trier, which eliminated Glenbrook South in 3 sets, for the regional title on Thursday night.
Tuesday’s finale for 6 graduating seniors — Desmond, Patty Duffy, Claire Berne, Clara Siebert, Maggie Serieka and Souadou Bangoura —climaxed a season full of frustration for the Wildkits, although they did win more matches this year than last season under second-year head coach Mallory Thelander.
Inconsistent play and the inability to stem opponents’ momentum cost the Wildkits defeats on more than one occasion, and after dominating the early portion of Tuesday’s contest, the Kits came up short again.
“This season was too much of a roller coaster ride, and the same thing happened tonight,” Thelander pointed out. “We had the momentum early. We had a huge lead, and then we got comfortable and we relaxed for too long. We had the momentum and we let it escape. Like most of our matches this year, tonight wasn’t about what the other team was doing, it was about us.
“We’ve definitely had some highs, and we’ve had some lows, this season. Once Palatine got the momentum we just couldn’t get it back. You could tell how much a senior like Holly really wanted it tonight with the way she played really well at the end. But Palatine was ready to play tonight and we weren’t. I did see some huge improvements for us this year, but I was expecting to go farther in the playoffs.”
Evanston’s offense was paced by Rosemary Gibbons with 6 kills, Maya Mahoney with 4 and Maggie Serieka with 3. Desmond counted 5 ace serves in her career finale, and her “refuse to lose” attitude almost rallied the Wildkits to in improbable comeback from 10 points down to the Pirates.
Palatine, which found a way to win the first set after trailing 10-4, seized a 23-13 advantage on a back row kill by 6-foot-2 junior Haley Holz. But a hitting error by the Pirates gave one more opportunity to Desmond and ETHS.
She began with aces on two of her next three serves, sandwiched around a ballhandling blunder by the Pirates, closing the gap to 23-17. Then Palatine’s Emily Campe whacked a kill attempt off the side antenna — that’s an illegal hit — and Desmond kept up her intensity by lining another ace off the hands of Holz.
Kills by sophomore Rileigh Farragher and Berne pulled the Kits to within 23-21. But the comeback died when Holz scored another back row kill, and later added the match-winner.
Even with the graduation of 6 seniors, the cupboard won’t be bare as far as returning varsity talent. Since her hiring, Thelander has spread out the playing time among all of the varsity players and the list of returnees led by Gibbons, Farragher, and defensive specialists Siena Prokopenko and Maddie Patke will already have plenty of court time under their belts.
Now they have to pass the chemistry test.
“Chemistry is the No. 1 thing that has to get better for us,” Thelander said. “Everyone has to buy in next year.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.