Only time will tell when Evanston’s volleyball team will get back on the winning track.
But first-year head coach Liz Brieva didn’t have any problem appreciating the effort and work ethic turned in by the Wildkits players all year despite the fact that they ended their fourth losing season in a row with a 25-19, 25-11 loss to New Trier Tuesday night in the semifinals of the Class 4A Niles West Regional tournament.
A final mark of 13 wins and 24 losses was certainly a source of frustration for Brieva, her coaching staff and especially the 7 seniors who couldn’t find a way to topple the Trevians. New Trier, the No. 2 seed in the Loyola Academy Sectional field, defeated the Wildkits three times this season and advanced to the regional title match against Prospect with the win.
Seniors Siena Prokopenko, Kat Seghal, Lucy Hart, Anna Henthorn, Maya Mahoney, Erin Eddy and Rosemary Gibbons could find some solace in the fact that the Trevians had to work up quite a sweat to win the first set Tuesday.
“I thought that first set was one of our best sets this year,” Brieva pointed out. “We had a lot of positive energy, we got some quick sideouts and we did not give up on balls in that first set. New Trier got a couple of blocks that gave them 3 or 4 points in a row, and that was the difference. I thought we did a good job of keeping them out of system in the first set.
“We missed some serves in the second game — we weren’t aggressive enough — and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had. We weren’t as hungry as we were in the first game.”
One good set followed by one not-so-good set was the pattern the Wildkits slipped into more often than not during the regular season. But ETHS did close out the year with 5 victories in the last 9 matches, an indication that they might have begun to turn the corner toward reversing a losing trend.
“As a coach, I couldn’t have asked for a more hard-working, dedicated and driven bunch of girls,” Brieva said. “They were so motivated and they worked so hard, that’s why there’s frustration that they weren’t able to put the pieces together and get a win string going. Tonight New Trier took advantage of situations and was able to build on them, and that’s what you have to do in the state playoffs.”
Evanston clung to a narrow lead through most of Tuesday’s first set and caught a break down 18-16 when a serve by New Trier’s Maddie McGregor — at first ruled an ace — was overruled because no Wildkit defender touched the ball.
But that was as close as the Wildkits got to a win. New Trier’s Cat Flood pounded home a score off an ETHS block, and back-to-back blocks by the Trevs helped them pull away to a 22-17 edge that they maintained down the stretch.
New Trier broke out to a 10-3 advantage in the second set and never looked back. Junior Rileigh Farragher led the Wildkits with 7 assists and 2 kills and sophomore Izzi Darrah contributed 3 kills, plus a block for a point.
Farragher, Darrah and another soph who saw limited action in the regional tourney, Kate Van Ert, are three returning players who figure to provide the core for next year’s squad. Juniors Aliyah Valentine, Emma Hinterhauser, Hannah Wiltgen and Lucy Egan also played their way into the regular rotation once Brieva decided to shift to a 6-2 alignment in the latter portion of the season.
“Our defense was better by the end of the year and we’ll have some strong passers coming back next year, too,” Brieva said. “The girls we have coming back are determined and competitive girls who are dedicated to volleyball. That’s why I’m still optimistic about the program and where we’re headed.
“We have a great coaching staff — they helped guide me this year — and we’re able to lean on each other. I’m lucky in that respect, that there’s great teamwork and we’re all there for each other. And I know that kind of leadership will have a trickle-down effect on the girls.”