A regular season that saw an injury-riddled Lyons Township High School girls volleyball team endure one of its poorest won-loss records ever ended on a high note Oct. 22.
The Lions were in the unusual role of underdog when they traveled to Oak Park and River Forest High School and upset the Huskies 21-25, 25-15, 25-22 in a West Suburban Conference Silver Division thriller.
That performance indicates the Lions could be a tough out in the state playoffs, which begin this week.
“I feel like we’re coming back strong,” LTHS junior setter/outside hitter Hannah Juley said. “I feel like we’re all meshing together at the right time and we’re going to peak at the right point. I really want to take this team far.”
Juley, a Wisconsin recruit, dished out 28 assists in her first Silver match of the year. She missed two months of action with a torn ligament in her foot and didn’t make her season debut until the Maine West tournament Oct. 18-19, guiding the Lions to sixth place.
Juley is just now beginning to mesh with her hitters and played great against the Huskies, running a diverse offense that saw Cori Hansen spike nine kills while Alex Hojnar, Jessi Skonning and Celine Jones all had six kills and Lindsey Oettel added five.
“It’s been a rough road to recovery so this was nice,” Juley said. “We didn’t even get to practice before the Maine West tournament so this was the first time we really got to run our hitters and it felt good. We’re starting to find out what sets to set my hitters and we’re doing really well.”
The return of Juley and 6-0 middle hitter Skonning, who missed two weeks with a concussion, are crucial for the Lions, who have lost two big hitters, 6-1 sophomore Shalyn Brady and 5-10 junior Catherine King, to season-ending injuries.
“Having the two of them back really beefs up the lineup and makes a huge difference for us,” LTHS coach Joann Pyritz said. “This was a good win because Oak Park is a good team. We knew we were going to have our hands full. They’ve got a lot of nice, big hitters and they cover the court very well, so I was happy that I felt our team played three fairly consistent games.”
OPRF (21-8, 3-3) led for most of the first set but fell behind early in the next two games. But the hosts staged a huge rally in the decisive set, using a 13-2 run to take a 19-18 lead on a block by Ariel Hamby before the Lions answered with a tip from Skonning that triggered a closing 7-4 run.
Hamby and Kiley Nelson pounded nine kills each and senior setter Amy Schembari added 25 assists, seven service points and five kills for the Huskies.
“I think that was what was good was that we were able to make a comeback,” Schembari said. “We can take that to the postseason, that [knowledge] we can come back if we’re down.”
These two teams could meet again in the title match of the Class 4A Morton Sectional. OPRF is the third seed and LTHS, which is seeking its 10th consecutive sectional crown, is seeded fifth.
“I like coming from underneath,” said Pyritz, whose team is at the St. Ignatius Regional this week. “I don’t necessarily like talking about ourselves very much and we like to fly below the radar.”
OPRF is favored to win the Reavis Regional. Only Glenbard South and Downers Grove North are seeded higher at the sectional.
“I’m very confident,” Schembari said. “I think we definitely are competitive in our regional and sectional and I think we have a really good chance of making it Downstate this year, which is very exciting.”
OPRF coach Don August was disappointed with the loss to LTHS and said his team needs to improve its passing, but is likewise upbeat.
“I feel good going into sectionals,” August said. “There’s probably six teams, Lyons being one of them, that can win our sectional and we’ve beaten a lot of them. We didn’t beat Lyons, but we split with Downers, we beat [fourth seed] Ignatius, we beat [seventh seed] Whitney Young. It’s a tough sectional but it’s highly competitive.”