What has happened to West Chicago?
After starting out the season 26-0 and cruising to the DuPage Valley Conference title, the Wildcats have suddenly gone south. Their 2-3 finish Saturday at the Downers Grove North invite last weekend made it seven losses in their last nine games.
"I think the two losses at Autumnfest and the losses to the Napervilles have shaken our confidence," West Chicago coach Kris Hasty said.
West Chicago lost a championship semifinal at Autumnfest to Mother McAuley 25-18, 24-26, 25-14 and the third-place match to Joliet Catholic 25-20, 25-16. Then came back-to-back, three-set losses to Naperville North and Naperville Central in which the Wildcats won the first game.
Saturday at Downers North was more of the same. After whipping Wheaton North 25-7 in the first game of their tournament opener, the Wildcats had to fight back to win 15-9 in the third. Against Hinsdale Central, they fell behind 8-0 in the first game and never threatened.
"Mentally, we need to be more confident," Hasty said. "We need to pull together when things don't go our way. We need to start out stronger. You can't dig yourself a hole like that against a team like Hinsdale Central."
In the semifinals, West Chicago did come out firing against No. 2-ranked Marist, playing point-for-point and taking leads of 24-22 and 25-24 in Game 1. But the Wildcats could not close out the deal and fell 27-25, 25-18.
The Wildcats looked to have righted the ship in the third-place match against Downers Grove North. But after winning Game 1 25-16, they dropped the next two 25-23 and 25-19.
"We know we are a good team," Hasty said. "We know we can play good volleyball. We just have to be more confident coming in and be more mentally tough."
West Chicago (29-7) is the top seed at the Conant regional and should face St. Charles North in the regional championship Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
Marist libero Caroline Niedospial admits she has not see much Northwestern volleyball this fall, including the Wildcats' match with Ohio State on Friday.
"I went to the (Marist) football game, some of it," said the Northwestern recruit. "I do follow Northwestern volleyball closely. They are doing very well. I am sure I will look at my schedule and see when I can watch them play."
Northwestern lost to Ohio State in five games Friday, but Niedospial's Marist team fared a little better over the weekend, defeating Hinsdale Central in three games to win the Downers Grove North invite..
Schaumburg volleyball coach Jeannette Pancratz had never lost a Mid-Suburban League title game, until Wednesday's 12-25, 25-17, 25-21 loss at Hersey. Her teams had won three straight titles between 1991-1993 and won again in 2007.
Pancratz, who began her coaching career at Resurrection in 1980, joined some exclusive company this fall when she reached the 700-win milestone against Wheaton Warrenville South at the Glenbard East tournament
Hersey coach Nancy Lill won her eighth Mid-Suburban League title in 23 years when the Huskies defeated Schaumburg on Wednesday. It was the Huskies eighth consecutive appearance in the championship match and 15th under Lill.
Lill is the winningest coach in MSL history with 742 wins.
Schaumburg's Emily Young (West) and Prospect's Sarah Hunt (East) were named their respective Mid-Suburban League division's "Player of the Year" and were honored Wednesday prior to the MSL title match between Schaumburg and Hersey.
Also named to the MSL all-conference team were: Amanda Dee, Madison Lang and Julia Thompson of Barrington; Victoria Ito of Buffalo Grove; Chelsea Vanicek of Conant; Jessica Condon of Elk Grove; and Alex Messner and Kayla Price of Fremd.
Also, Kelsey Hass, Abby Fesl, Jenni Mueller, Danielle Perkins and Kristen Pedersen of Hersey; Jada Stotts of Hoffman Estates; Kaley Sierawski of Palatine; Danielle Siwik of Prospect; and Bria Hailey, Rebecca Thompson and Sara Travis of Schaumburg.
Also named to the all-conference team were Stephanie Fuchs, Kayla Jordan and Kellie Kuzmanic of Wheeling.
Finally, here are this week's national rankings from Prepvolleball.com's John Tawa:
1. Cary-Grove (Cary, Illinois)
Current record: 34-0; Last week's ranking: 1
One week after ascending to the top of these rankings, the Trojans remain at the pinnacle, thanks to two easy wins. Thursday's sweep of McHenry was accomplished in front of the largest home crowd coach Patty Langanis has seen in her 15-plus years at the school. Tuesday's win over Crystal Lake South clinched Cary-Grove's second straight FVC Valley title. Ashley Rosch had five kills in the victory. The senior duo of Colleen Smith and Kelly Lamberti continue to carry C-G, which concludes its regular season today at Dundee-Crown. They have been part of 127 wins in their four years, including the past 50 in a row. The Trojans open Regional play one week from Thursday.
15. Marist (Chicago, Illinois)
Current record: 28-2; Last week's ranking: 18
Ashley Holder had 23 assists and Lauren Zielinski contributed nine kills and three blocks in a win over Fenwick last Thursday, but that was only a prelude to Tuesday's match versus Joliet Catholic for the ESCC title. In that one, Zielinski and Katie Krasowski had seven kills apiece and freshman Carolyn Yerkes served successive aces late in Game 2 to power Marist's sweep. The conference title was Marist's first since 2006.
16. Lyons Township (La Grange, Illinois)
Current record: 32-1; Last week's ranking: 19
Lyons won the Maine West Pumpkin Tournament last weekend. The Lions dropped Game 1 of the final to Sandburg, but dominated the next two. Lyons then faced two tough tests to close the regular season. On Tuesday, the Lions got by resurgent Hinsdale Central, 25-21, 25-23, behind 11 kills from Jocelynn Birks, eight from Laura Williams and 14 assists and five kills from Alexis Viliunas. Lyons got another big win on Wednesday, sweeping Mother McAuley on the road behind the strong play of middles Kelsey Keeve and Julia Watkins.
The Next 75 (with random notes inserted)
30. Mater Dei (Breese, Illinois)
Current record: 29-1; Last week's ranking: 31
Random note: Mater Dei lost just its third set of the season Monday, but rallied to defeat Edwardsville in three on the road. Brooke Schulte keyed the win with strong swings and serves late in the third set and Kayla Eversgerd did a solid job setting for the first time all season. Sam Epenesa matched Schulte with 12 kills for Edwardsville. Mater Dei and Edwardsville both are entered in the 32-team Quincy Notre Dame tournament this weekend.
42. York (Elmhurst, Illinois)
Current record: 27-3; Last week's ranking: 83
44. Benet (Lisle, Illinois)
Current record: 27-6; Last week's ranking: 86
Random note: Note to Illinois: the Redwings are getting hot! Benet defeated St. Charles East, Joliet Catholic and Mother McAuley Saturday to win the Autumnfest. Lara Ontko was named MVP, but the Redwings also got big contributions from Jenna Jendryk, Meghan Haggerty and Allyson Farm.
46. Moline (Illinois)
Current record: 31-2; Last week's ranking: 53
Random note: Sam Fournier and Marquisha Harris keyed Moline's run to the title Saturday at the Bradley-Boubonnais Tournament. The Maroons defeated both Illinois 1A champion Lanark Eastland and 28-4 Washington (IL) in the championship pool.
64. Mother McAuley (Chicago, Illinois)
Current record: 25-7; Last week's ranking: 33
87. Joliet Catholic (Joliet, Illinois)
Current record: 28-7; Last week's ranking: 87
Current record: 29-4; Last week's ranking: 98
Teams on the bubble
Illinois: Althoff, Crystal Lake Central, Edwardsville, Hersey, Hinsdale Central, Hinsdale South, Huntley, Lanark Eastland, Libertyville, Lincoln, Marian Central, Quincy, Sandburg, St. Charles East, St. Francis, West Chicago