Boys volleyball: York tops Lincoln-Way West in two sets to reach state semis

Dukes will bring home first state trophy since 1997

York’s Logan Rice, middle, and Zach Brown, right, celebrate a point with Jack Bute during the boys state volleyball quarterfinal match against Lincoln-Way West  at Hoffman Estates High School on Friday, May 31, 2024 in Hoffman Estates.

HOFFMAN ESTATES – York boys volleyball coach Ken Dowdy had to stop and buy another Hawaiian shirt.

Since the postseason started, Dowdy has donned a Hawaiian shirt at his teams’ matches. He’s also grown a playoff mustache. He hopes all those good luck charms continue on Saturday because the Dukes will be there.

They were in control during a 25-17, 25-17 win over Lincoln-Way West on Friday afternoon in the last quarterfinal of the state finals at Hoffman Estates.

Playing in its first state tournament since 1999, York (36-4) will bring home its first trophy since placing third in 1997.

York’s Logan Rice keeps the ball in play against Lincoln-Way West during the boys state volleyball quarterfinals at Hoffman Estates High School on Friday, May 31, 2024 in Hoffman Estates.

“I’ll continue that until the end of the playoffs,” Dowdy said of his Hawaiian apparel. “But [against Lincoln-Way West] we had a great scouting report. We also had a really good serve-receive and kept them out of rhythm.”

Things started well enough for Lincoln-Way West (32-8) with a 10-8 lead in the opening set. Then it was the Dukes pretty much the rest of the way. Behind two kills apiece by senior outside hitter Jack Bute (9 kills, 9 digs) and senior middle hitter Logan Rice (6 kills) York went on an 8-1 burst for a 16-11 lead.

The Warriors, who were making their first state appearance since losing in the state quarterfinals in 2018, never got closer than four after that.

The second set was more of the same as Lincoln-Way West led 3-1 but the Dukes scored four in a row and led the rest of the way. The Warriors closed within 16-13 midway through the set but that was as close as they got.

A kill by senior outside hitter Ben Brown (9 kills, 4 digs) ended it. Sophomore middle hitter Hunter Stepanich (5 kills, 3 blocks) and senior setter Jack Zitek (19 assists, 4 digs) also contributed for the Dukes, who have won 21 in a row and 24 of 25 since a 25-22, 25-17 loss to Lyons on April 16.

“We lost to Lyons and I was going to call a team meeting the next day,” Dowdy said. “But the team already had done that themselves.”

Brown believes in his guys.

“We have the best chemistry on and off the court,” Brown said. “We just all love each other and have the mentality to play for each other.”

Playing in his final high school match, Lincoln-Way West senior outside hitter Connor Jaral had eight kills and five digs. Setter Noah Konopack (19 assists, 2 digs) was the only other senior starter for the Warriors. Juniors Drew Kregul (5 kills) in the middle and Hunter Vedder (5 kills) on the outside, along with junior libero Andrew Flores (7 digs) are expected back next season.

“York passed well and played in system, and we couldn’t get on any runs,” Lincoln-Way West coach Jodi Frigo said. “We discussed coming into this season that we lost a lot of strong players from last season’s (30-10) team. But we put ourselves in position to get stronger every day and we did that. We should have seven juniors back next year.”

Jaral, who will continue to play volleyball at Loras College, will remember what got the team to this point.

“I’ll just remember the road here,” he said. “Going downstate and beating Belleville [East 25-18, 27-29, 26-24] in the sectional final. Just the journey to get here.”

So will the Dukes, as it’s taken almost three decades to get back to this point.

“At the start of the season, I didn’t know if we were very good or elite,” Dowdy said. “Now we’re playing on Saturday and we’re elite.”

Randy Whalen

Randy Whalen - Shaw Local News Network Correspondent

Randy Whalen is a contributing reporter to Shaw Local, covering high school sports in Will County