MINOOKA – Even though it was trying to wrap up its third straight conference title, the Minooka boys volleyball team also was focused on the rest of its season Tuesday.
As a result, the Indians coaches went with a 6-2 setup instead of their usual 5-1 in their matchup against Plainfield Central with Southwest Prairie Conference title implications at stake.
With Mason Novak stepping in as setter for the first time and Brandon Baranski joining in on the hitting, the strategy shift worked well, as Minooka mixed in a varied attack with good defense and also received a strong performance from its middle blockers.
It resulted in an efficient, 25-19, 25-23 win over the Wildcats that gave coach Janel Grzetich’s program their 41st straight SPC win during the past three seasons.
Minooka (24-9, 13-0) hopes to wrap up a third-consecutive unbeaten league season and claim its fifth league title in six years Thursday when it hosts Oswego East..
“We decided that we needed to make a few changes and if we’re going to do that, we need to make those changes now,” Grzetich said. “I was really happy with their confidence level in themselves and taking leadership while stepping into new roles. Defensively our players were moving much more, and our middle blockers did a better job of closing, which was good to see since that was an area where we had been lacking earlier.”
The best the Wildcats (11-2 SPC) could have hoped for was a tie in the conference if they won Tuesday, and then beat Plainfield North in their league finale Wednesday.
Instead, Central coach Alex Hurlburt and his squad will now set their focus on the Joliet West Regional, where they’re seeded second in a tough field that includes Joliet Catholic, Joliet West, fourth-seed Minooka and Lockport.
“Minooka is a fantastic team that has great height and jumping ability,” Hurlburt said. “This time they threw an offense at us that was a fair bet difference than the one we saw last time, so that kind of caught us off-guard. They executed brilliantly by diversifying their attack so give them all due respect since they played well. They did a great job.”
In the opener, Minooka built up a 13-8 lead and the Wildcats were unable to get any closer than three points back during the rest of the set.
The finale was a much closer affair and went right down to the wire with Central forcing a late 23-point tie before the Indians got a kill from Mitch Perinar (eight kills, three blocks) and a block from Luke Hermann to wrap things up.
Novak had 12 assists while recording six kills, and Baranski added eight assists and three kills in their new roles. Justin Toth chipped in with five kills and a block, while Armani Zuniga contributed four digs and three assists.
“Plainfield Central is a tough team and they’re good competitors,” Novak said. “Winning conference championships is kind of pride thing for our program. We had a talk as a team today about what it really meant for us to practice and play like this. A problem for us had been closing the middle block and [Tuesday] they really locked down and I was impressed. Some of the missing pieces are starting to come together for us and it’s at a good time.”
One of the keys for Minooka was that it was able to slow down Central’s Tom Poznanski, who had a rare match where he was held to a single-digit kill total.
Gage Wuestenfeld recorded six kills, Noah Randall handed out 24 assists and Gavin Broekema chipped in with 13 digs for the Wildcats.
“Our middles were a force and we closed a lot better [Tuesday],” Toth said. “This was Mason’s first time as a setter and he did really well and I though that our passing was pretty good, too. I like how we get pumped up and never back down and our chemistry is really good.”