Senior Connor Carroll and his Lyons Township High School boys volleyball teammates were understandably elated yet focused about the program’s first trip to the state finals since 2016.
When LTHS coach Brad Skendzel presented his players commemorative black T-shirts days before the June 2 quarterfinals, “Business Trip” was printed on the back.
“That’s something coach has been saying all year,” Carroll said. “It’s just like a no-nonsense, everybody lock in and really focus on what we’ve got to do as a team.”
The Lions continued that approach to climax their greatest season ever.
They reached the state championship match on for the first time before losing to defending champion and West Suburban Conference Silver rival Glenbard West 25-18, 25-20 at Hoffman Estates on June 3.
LTHS (35-7) also set a program record for victories in a season.
“It’s hard to predict something like that but the fact that we did everything we did, the wins record, state runner-up, I’m really proud of that,” said senior Sam Levinson, a first-team selection on the Illinois Volleyball Coaches Association All-State Team. “This group was really special, so I’m really happy.”
The Lions guaranteed their first top-four trophy since 2005 by beating Brother Rice for the third time this season, 25-17, 25-23 on June 2. LTHS then beat fourth-place O’Fallon 25-21, 25-18 in the June 3 semifinals.
Levinson, Carroll, seniors Leo Wiemelt, Filip Topor, Tommy Hennessy and Connor Katchmarik along with juniors Luka Kostic, Carson Turner, libero Zaccary Ruiz and Tommy Culver were part of the state lineup rotation.
“We had big expectations coming into the season. We really would have liked to win, of course, but we’ll take second for sure,” said Wiemelt, who will play at UC-San Diego.
“[I’ll remember] the camaraderie, the amount of excitement that came with each win. I’ve never been here before so it was just a great way to end my senior year.”
The Lions have four previous trophies, a third place in 2002 and three fourth places. They won as many as 32 matches three times, the last in 2003.
“Absolutely amazing,” Skendzel said. “We were working hard but they were enjoying the moment. This is beautiful to see. We had all of the fans here. You can’t ask for anything more.”
The Lions notched a 32-30, 25-20 victory over Glenbard West in May, but the Hilltoppers (40-2) won their eighth straight top-three trophy – five of them state championships – behind great defense and serve receive and lineup tweaks since the first meeting. Levinson (9 kills), Kostic (6 kills, 7 digs), Ruiz (7 digs) and Turner (15 assists) led the Lions.
“We came here with confidence. We knew we could play with them,” Skendzel said. “Glenbard West did a really good job digging everything up. There were a few swings that would have gone down a couple of weeks ago. Also, they started to tip and that kind of hurt us.”
Many LTHS and Glenbard West players are club volleyball teammates, particularly the 630 program They shuttled between the large post-game celebrations to offer congratulations.
“You kind of look at each other across the net, smile at each other a little bit,” said Kostic, a third-team all-stater. “[Our seniors] contributed a ton. All of them are amazing leaders and inspirations on the court. They always help me mentally and with skills.”
Levinson, who will play at Springfield (Massachusetts) College, led the Lions with 270 kills and 40 aces. Other leaders included Kostic (259 kills, 27 aces, 50 blocks), Turner (518 assists), Carroll (161 kills, 54 blocks), Topor (72 blocks), Wiemelt (152 kills), Culver (302 assists), Ruiz (191 digs) and Hennessy (155 digs).
Carroll (Aurora University) and Topor (Milwaukee School of Engineering) also will play collegiately. Hennessy had made two state trips in boys bowling.
“Lots of fans come out for both. It’s a great experience for both. It really makes you a stronger competitor,” Hennessy said. “We had a lot of guys do a lot of great things this season and I honestly couldn’t be happier.”
Skendzel said the Lions excelled after committing to improved defense following back-to-back losses to Downers Grove North and Lake Park.
“Before the season I think we knew some of our potential and before that Richards Tournament [title May 13], we kind of locked in,” Levinson said. “We kind of just rode it from there and ended up here.”
They won the Oswego Sectional by avenging both WSC Silver losses, beating Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North 25-17, 25-23 in the May 30 sectional final. The Lions won three of four meetings with the Trojans.
“I think we really bonded as a team off the court. We really worked on our communication. Our defense played a huge factor,” Carroll said. “Overall, it’s been an amazing weekend.”