“Our coach talked a lot about the theme of battle to start off the season,” said senior Charlie Steenberge. “He said this because he believes we are going to need to really work for a lot of wins this year, more so than last, but also knows we are capable of beating any team we play just have to play our hardest every point and not get down on ourselves.”
The Jr. Bills faced off against the CBC Cadets in a match that SLUH controlled from the start, dominating most serves and only needing two sets to take the victory. When subbed in for Steenberge who was leading Kairos, freshman George Henken proved his spot on the team, crushing the game with 19 assists and two aces.
“George definitely came to play against CBC,” said senior Joe Manion. “He’s been coming off a nasty blister situation on his feet so it was cool to see how unbothered he was by it. He was a serving machine too. Big things to come from that boy.”
After taking the first set 25-12, the Cadets were unable to handle the fast offense of the Jr. Bills in the second set. Along with a dominant serving streak by Manion, senior Dalton Ennis helped with his kills, placing the ball in the open court. Both Ennis and sophomore Peter Quinn got seven kills and gave SLUH the win in the second set and the game, 25-15.
“Our underclassmen have really stepped up huge for us all the way from juniors to even freshman,” said Steenberge. “Emmanuel Reyes played amazing against arguably the best middle in the state, Clay Kruse, getting two early kills and a block or two that really set the tone for the rest of the match. Peter Quinn and Peter Curdt have really solidified or team offensively and defensively with their athleticism.”
The team came into the game against De Smet ready for a battle. De Smet’s powerful team this year is one that the Jr. Bills could possibly face in the State final, and this game was a show that proved who was best.
“We are still early in the year so a lot of our preparation is really focused on our side of the net. We have been working to become more consistent in all areas of the game, so our primary focus was consistent mental approach,” said head coach Jeff Cheak. “De Smet is going to be a top team this year and we could potentially play them a few more times and again in the playoffs. I think both teams were really focusing on our own side.”
The game started with high energy. The first set went back and forth, but SLUH never lost the lead in the craziness. After a streak of points from the Jr. Bills, De Smet used a timeout to regroup, but it didn’t seem to help much as the Bills came back to get the point after a seemingly endless rally. With a hit from junior Peter Curdt and a pass from Steenberge, junior Emmanuel Reyes was set up perfectly to spike the ball into the open court to make the score 13-8.
“We really fed off the energy of the big game and big moment which kept us active and talking to each other,” said Steenberge. “The more energized we are, the more we talk, and the better we play.”
After a strong dig by Curdt and kills by Ennis, De Smet gave the Jr. Bills a scare when they went on a tear for four unanswered points to make it 16-14 and forcing SLUH to call a timeout. But, SLUH wasn’t shaken as Manion brought the boys back with serves that the Spartans couldn’t seem to return.
“Every day I practice serving 200 balls into the court, in honor of our school’s bicentennial, which definitely doubly blesses my serving skills,” said Manion. “I think the constant focus on aggressive serves is what sparks momentum in tight games.”
After a timeout by De Smet, SLUH closed out the set with powerful kills from senior Dalton Ennis and sophomore Peter Quinn, winning the first set 25-19.
“Our hitters also did an amazing job of getting kills efficiently,” said Steenberge. “They stayed away from the blockers and made it hard for the passers to give a good pass if any.”
After a solid start by De Smet in the second set, the Jr. Bills took control with their crafty passes and perfect placement of their kills. After senior Andrew Cross nearly broke the Danis Field House court with a strong kill, Manion showed off his skills, going cross court on one spike and placing the ball between two Spartans, making the score 10-6.
“We kept the energy high and got hyped after every point. That’s what keeps this team hot,” said Manion. “Charlie did a great job running different plays and we were really able to establish a strong offense.”
The Jr. Bills controlled the rest of the set. Four points from beautiful serves by Tanner Dougherty and the blocks at the net by Reyes and Ennis separated the Jr. Bills from De Smet. SLUH took advantage of the Spartans miscommunications and took the second set and the game 25-18.
“Our serving really put a lot of pressure on them and kept them out of system most of the match,” said Cheak. “De Smet is really strong in the middle, so by keeping them out of system they weren’t able to effectively engage their top guys.
The following day, the Jr. Bills headed to Parkway Central to face off against the Colts. The team struggled in the first set when it came to serves, missing shots or hitting them out. The team also failed to make good passes and made plenty of hitting errors, giving the Colts an advantage. Despite never losing the lead, Parkway Central came close in the first set and gave the Jr. Bills a scare.
“I think a lot of us weren’t in the right mindset going into the game, and that caused us to play below our potential,” said Manion. “We expected to easily roll over this team but because of that we didn’t put in enough effort.”
However, senior captain Brian Venhaus rallied the boys together with his flawless serving to push the Bills to take the first set 25-15.
“We went through the motions in the first set which we get caught a lot doing against bad teams,” said Steenberge. “Brian said in our huddle in between sets we need to set the energy level because we are matching their really low energy level and causing us to play at their level.”
In the second set, SLUH was able to correct their flaws. Venhaus continued to dominate from the serving line, and the players showed their talent as well. Ennis was again dominant at the net with his kills, and Cross helped out as well with his powerful kills. SLUH ended up taking the second set and game with ease, 25-13.
“We still haven’t reach the level we will need for the playoffs,” said Cheak. “We really talked about when to be aggressive versus conservative when serving. We are continuing to learn the right mental approach in both serving and passing.”
As the volleyball squad heads into a long break, they hope to prepare for some tough competition. In the Parkway Central tournament this Friday and Saturday, SLUH will get their first look at Lafayette—the team they beat in the State finals last year. It will most likely be their toughest test yet, but they are ready.
“I guess we will find how prepared we really are this weekend. I am anxious to see how we match against some of the top teams. I believe seven of the top 10 teams will be in the tournament and we get the opportunity to see some teams we won’t see in the regular season,” said Cheak. “Our team loves to play against the top teams and, win or lose, we will see what areas of our game are strong and which need work.”