Most of the time he turned to his bench in the past during his tenure as Evanston’s boys volleyball coach, Mike McDermott wasn’t sure what he’d get when it came to production on offense or defense.
That was then. Now, McDermott expects no dropoff in the Wildkits’ performance no matter what substitutions he decides on.
Evanston’s unprecedented depth paid off with the Wildkits third straight victory of the young season as ETHS turned back Lake Forest 25-21, 26-24 Monday in a special appearance at Northwestern University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It was an appropriate setting for the victory when you consider that the 2016 edition of the Evanston boys program has the kind of depth most college teams rely on.
With two new starters — senior setter Sam Weidner and junior outside hitter Jordan Wallace — in the lineup, the Kits didn’t miss a beat and improved to 3-0 on the season, one of their best starts in years.
Weidner and Wallace, in fact, didn’t even play in the previous match, a win over Loyola Academy back on March 23. But after setter Shane Waterloo (illness) and Charlie Knepper (out of state trip) missed practices over spring break, McDermott didn’t hesitate to pull the switch on some changes.
“We’re only carrying 12 guys on our roster this year, instead of our usual 15, but all of them are good enough to start at any time for us,” said the Evanston coach. “We have great competition in practice to see who’ll start at most positions, and that’s definitely a first for us. Both of our setters are doing an outstanding job for us and we haven’t had that kind of depth at that spot for a long time.
“I think everyone understands that they’re all critical pieces for us and if they work hard, their time will come.”
Evan Lindley paced Evanston’s offense Monday with a team-high 13 kills, and added 3 blocks and 2 ace serves for the winners. Junior Chris Dimitru contributed 5 kills, Isaac Sageman added 3 blocks, and Waterloo’s 12 assists all came in the second set.
Dimitru’s early offense helped the Kits break out to a 10-4 advantage in the first set, but the Scouts finally pulled even at 18-18 and again at 20-20. But Lake Forest’s Mason Moore knocked a kill attempt out of bounds, Weidner delivered an ace serve, and two more Lake Forest errors set the stage for match point.
Weidner set up Dimitru, who pounded home the kill between two blockers for the win.
The lead changed hands 12 times in a back-and-forth second set, and down the stretch it was Evanston’s depth behind go-to guy Lindley that made the difference. Sophomore outside hitter Emmanuel Smith, just promoted to the varsity, stepped on the court and delivered a pair of crucial kills, including the game-winner, as ETHS outscored the losers 6-4 at the end.
“What did the White Sox used to call that — winning ugly — but it still counts,” McDermott pointed out. “Winning ugly is fine, as long as we understand that the win is the icing on the cake, and what’s important is the hard work it takes for us to move forward and continue to get better. I was really impressed by the way we came out strong even with two new starters in there, and we were able to pull through even when we struggled a bit with our energy midway through that second set.”
Early season matchups against two teams like Loyola and Lake Forest that have been a nemesis recently have prevented strong starts from Wildkit teams in past seasons. Now, the Kits hope to maintain that momentum for the 5 matches in 2 days they’ll play this weekend at a 25-team tournament hosted by Warren.
“The only ceiling for this team is their focus and their energy level. Other than that, I can’t set a ceiling for them,” McDermott said. “This is a great group to coach and they really enjoy playing together. We can be as good as we want to be, as long as they understand that it’s about the journey and not just the destination.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.