CHANNAHON — At one point in Thursday’s Southwest Prairie Conference boys volleyball match between Plainfield South and Minooka, it was hard to tell which of the two teams had earned a top regional seed.
The Indians, of course, have that distinction, but the Cougars of South hit the hosts with their best shot, even leading at one time midway through the first game. Things quickly changed as expected, however, and Minooka regained its winning form in time to capture a 25-19, 25-12 win over South.
The win puts Minooka at an impressive 24-1 record overall and the Indians are 10-0 in the SPC this spring.
At the onset, though, it didn’t look like South was a No. 5 regional seed and Minooka the No. 1. In fact, the Cougars led 10-9 and 12-11 at one point before the Indians snapped out of it.
“For some reason we always have trouble starting out. I think too many times we play down to our competition,” Minooka senior libero Adam Holstine said. “We know that our conference is a lot weaker than the talent we have and I think it just takes time for us to get ourselves going.”
“We came out kind of overlooking them,” fellow senior Maalik Walker said. “We came out very slow. We didn’t start strong at all.”
Which has everyone on the Indians trying to figure out an answer to — either playing down to the competition, looking past the Cougars in light of being in the Lincoln-Way East Tournament his weekend or just flat tired. What?
“Today, to be quite honest, I don’t know,” Minooka coach Janel Grzetich said. “I don’t know if they were tired from practice yesterday — I gave them a bit of a run yesterday — or if it’s not concentrating so much on this game and more on tomorrow. That I don’t know, but I do know that our focus was lacking.”
Walker admitted that he felt that it was an energy thing.
“It’s probably an energy thing because we came out very slow,” he said. “After a while we got together and talked and said ‘let’s get this game over with’ and we finished fast.”
“We’re more like going through the motions instead of executing as well as we should,” Holstine admitted.
One other possible scenario is that South showed up more determined to snap a four-year losing streak to the Indians. Minooka has gone a combined 50-2 over the last four years losing once to Plainfield Central and once to Plainfield North.
“We’ve had a target on our backs for a while,” Walker said. “It showed today because they didn’t lay down. They really wanted to play against us.”
In the last three years of SPC play, the Indians have played a three-game set with league opponents just four times.
“Everyone knows how good we are, I mean the rankings are out and everything and when we see the fans here we realize we need to pick it up for them,” Holstine said. “To play like we should and give them the show they want to see.”
Which is exactly what happened.
“I feel like the second game we came out and the fire was on us,” Walker said. “We were ready to play and finish. I felt like our passing got better. When we were able to pass, we were able to kill, put the ball down and get the point.”
Coach Grzetich said that the adjustments were O.K.
“Obviously, a win is a win and I’m always going to be happy about it,” she said. “But I have seen these boys play at a much higher level. Tonight they were not playing to their capabilities. They weren’t at that level. Obviously these boys are amazing and wonderful to watch. They are so much fun to coach, but they are even much more fun to watch and coach when they are playing at the level they are capable of.”
On the night, Phil Hannon led Minooka with 27 assists while Matt Svetlecich led the Indians in kills with seven. Mitch Perinar and mason Novak had six kills each. Luis Guerrero and Maalik Walker had five kills each and Walker added a block. Holstine had five digs, The Indians are now at the Lincoln-Way East Tournament starting Friday and continuing into Saturday. Many top-ranked teams in the state are expected to be there.
“This means everything. The top teams in the state are going to be there,” Holstine said. “We’re all getting a little tired of conference play and I think it’d be good to play the Lincoln-Ways and all the other good teams that are going to be there.”
Grezetich said that she thinks her team will be ready when the whistle blows at that event.
“They have proven themselves to be able when they are in that really high-level intensity game and situation. They’ve responded really well,” she said. “I’m hoping that I’ll see that (Friday) and Saturday.”
A challenge the Indians shouldn’t take lightly.
“I think it’s a big tournament for us to prove ourselves,” Walker said. “Everyone says that we’ve had an easy ride. But I feel like once we get there we are going to be able to prove that we haven’t. That we deserve to be state ranked.”