MAPLE PARK – Winning five total matches – including the ultimate three-set final against Kaneland to win the Kaneland Invite gold bracket title – can speak to the collective team effort by Metea Valley to achieve it.
Whether it came from the near-automatic offense off the right arm of Kira Hutson or solid back row defensive play, the Mustangs left knowing they left it all on the court on Saturday.
“...They’ve been putting in the work day in, day out,” said Metea Valley assistant coach Gus Colima, who was filling in for head coach Dave MacDonald at the tournament. “It’s showing. It’s a testament to them and their sacrifice, work ethic and it’s starting to show.”
The Mustangs (23-2) outlasted Kaneland 25-18, 15-25, 25-14 to win the championship match. While the first set was perhaps the most even between the two teams momentum-wise, Hutson and company ensured a rather dominating third set where Kaneland was unable to regain the mojo it re-discovered in set two.
Hutson, for the match, powered down 16 kills to pace the Mustangs offensively. Hutson’s volleys thundered across the net, but she also showed plenty of promise defensively in digs and blocking at the net to show she’s more than a scoring threat.
“I think [her defense is underrated], too,” Colima said. “I think she’s really rounding out as a player, front and back row, offensive, defensively and at the service line. She’s got a great read and it’s something that she’s also developing just to increase it more.”
“Her overall play on the team itself, she brings a positive attitude” Colima continued. “She’s our calm in the rotation and everybody knows they can lean on her.”
Metea Valley’s setters, Regan Holmer and Emma Bludgen, also earned some praise for their overall output of play during the tournament.
“They’re both kind of setting three rotations each,” Colima said. “For sure both of them have taken the challenge of running this dynamic offense with so many weapons at the net. I think [it’s] a credit to them just being able to move the ball around [and] going against the flow in certain situations where our hitters were able to swing away.”
Kaneland (18-3) enjoyed an overall solid tournament as the host, which included a three-set victory over Plainfield Central to begin the second day of competition. The Knights then defeated Downers Grove North in three sets in the gold bracket semifinals to face Metea Valley.
“[It’s about] coming out strong the sets [that made a difference],” Kaneland coach Cynthia Violett said. “The first and third set, we just didn’t come out strong. And then if you don’t come out strong, we’re just playing point-for-point and eventually we’re not pushing points. So that’s what we need to work on is coming out strong every set.”
Kaneland was led offensively by Madison Buckley’s 10 kills, while Bella Rio followed with eight. Mia Kane had three kills and two aces.
“Bella played really well. She started off really slow the first match,” Violett continued. “Her back row [was kind of a struggle] but she came strong, focused on her front row and really played hard. I would also say my libero, [Mackenzie Ewen], she played really well; and then of course, Meghan [O’Sullivan] and Maddie.”
Downers Grove North (13-8) handled Joliet West 25-16, 25-12 in the gold bracket third place match. Gwen Wolkow led with nine kills. Batavia (10-11) took seventh after defeating Plainfield Central in the silver bracket.
“She’s just a gamer. She’s a competitor,” Trojans coach Mark Wasik said of Wolkow. “She goes at it every ball every time; not just in games, but in practice. She sets a tempo and a tone for our team and she’s a tough kid. That’s how she plays. There’s no variation in terms of taking it easy or going light. She always is going all-out.”