When the Evanston volleyball coaching staff decided to shift from a 5-1 attack to a 6-2 three weeks ago, the idea was to take better advantage of junior Rileigh Farragher’s talents as a hitter, not just as a setter.
But the domino effect of that choice also gave Kat Seghal a chance to see more court time. And the senior setter has shown over that stretch that she’s a prime time player, too.
Clutch performances by Seghal in the first set helped the No. 18 seed Wildkits spill No. 15 seed Wheeling by a 27-25, 25-19 margin in the first round of the Class 4A Niles West Regional tournament Monday night.
ETHS will take a 13-23 overall record into Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. matchup against New Trier, the No. 2 seed in the Loyola Academy Sectional. The Wildkits have dropped both regular season matches against the Trevians in Central Suburban League South division play, but have won 5 of their last 8 matches with the new-look lineup in place.
Winner of that Tuesday match will face either Niles West or Prospect for the regional championship on Thursday.
Seghal has played a major role in that surge after barely getting off the bench as a defensive specialist the first half of the season. Her serving and setting played an instrumental role as the Kits battled back from a 24-21 deficit to snatch the first set away from the Wildcats.
Seghal set up Farragher for the game-tying point at 25-25, then delivered a game-winning feed to Emma Hinterhauser for a left-handed tip that secured the 27-25 triumph.
The senior standout added 5 more assists in the second set for the winners.
“We were lucky to win that first game because of their errors,” admitted ETHS head coach Liz Brieva. “This year we’ve really tried to give all of the girls opportunities when we can, and I think giving these seniors like Kat opportunities has really created such positive energy for the whole team.
“Kat was a setter as a freshman and a sophomore. We knew that running a 6-2 would add to our offense and we also tried a couple of other players at setter. Kat was hesitant at first, but now she’s really coming into her own. She has great court sense — and great ability, too — and her reactions are really quick. She’s quite a competitor, too.”
Seghal sat and watched while the Wildkits struggled for most the year, playing just well enough to lose.
“I was used to just playing right back on defense, but the coaches made the switch because Rileigh is an amazing hitter and we can utilize her more. Now we have more than one hitter we can go to,” Seghal pointed out. “Me and Aliyah (Valentine) both have some background as setters. I still struggle at times making decisions. I like setting but I have to make sure I’m fully focused all the time I’m in there.
“At the end of the first set tonight I was a little nervous, but I was also confident because I’ve been playing pretty well lately. I just stayed extra focused and was able to push through the nerves for the last couple of points.”
Six kills by Rosemary Gibbons paced the ETHS attack, with 5 of those jams coming in the first set. But the Wildkits fell behind when Wheeling strung together a 5-0 run followjng an ace serve by Valentine, building a 17-14 lead midway through the set.
A missed serve cost the Kits the 24th point, but Wheeling setter Grace Zambrano was whistled for a double hit that regained the serve for the winners. A passing error and a hitting miscue helped ETHS pull even at 24-all, before Seghal helped apply the finishing touches to the victory.
Hannah Wiltgen came off the bench for Evanston to serve up a 6-0 run in the second set that broke the match open at 22-13. She scored two aces during that decisive run.
“Hannah’s another one who hasn’t played a whole lot, but she served really tough and aggressive for us at the end of that second set,” Brieva praised. “And I thought Emma (Hinterhauser) made a lot of great plays when we needed them, too.”
Seghal can’t wait to get another crack at rival New Trier.
“The first time we played them we played really well. We were cohesive, we played as a unit and we were fluid with our play even though we lost,” she said. “This time we just need to have energy right from the beginning, and we have to be able to work as a unit.”
“We were competitive against them the first time,” Brieva agreed. “If we play well and really bring it, I think we can give them a run for their money.”