Boys volleyball: Muehlnickel leads Lincoln-Way East to sweep of Plainfield North

Lincoln-Way East’s Matthew Muehinickel hits a shot against Plainfield North on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

PLAINFIELD – Whether he is in the front row at the net, behind the service line or anywhere in between, Lincoln-Way East senior Matthew Muehlnickel is going to hit the ball hard.

Muehlnickel had a match-high nine kills to go with seven digs and a team-high four aces Tuesday night to lead the Griffins to a 25-16, 25-23 nonconference win over Plainfield North.

“We were really locked in with our serving,” Muehlnickel said. “We struggled a little bit with that early in the season, but we really improved on it today.

“I would say that offense is the strong part of my game. Me and [senior outside hitter] Trey Marek are pretty dominant at the pins and that opens things up for the other guys. Serving is also one of the top skills to have.”

Midway through the first set, Lincoln-Way East (7-2) held a 14-10 lead against a scrappy Plainfield North squad before Muehlnickel got to show off his serving skills.

He delivered, and then some, utilizing a hard jump serve to score three straight aces and put the Griffins up 17-10, a cushion they kept the rest of the way en route to the opening set victory.

The Tigers (3-4) did not back down, however, and kept things tight throughout the second set. Plainfield North led 10-7 before a seven-point run, highlighted by a kill by Muehlnickel and a combined block from Muehlnickel and Nate Webster, put the Griffins ahead 14-10. Plainfield North chipped away at the lead and eventually tied it at 18 on a kill by Jake Hill, then took a 19-18 lead on a block by Hill. The Tigers took a 22-21 lead on a kill by Cole Clarke.

Plainfield North’s Cole Clarke hits a shot against Lincoln-Way East on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

The Griffins got back-to-back kills from Muehlnickel and Drew Clarkin to move ahead 23-22 before a kill by Clarke tied it again. Lincoln-Way East won the match on a serving error and then a hitting error by North.

“Cole had a good night,” North coach Nick Ramos said. “We challenged the upperclassmen tonight. Earlier in the year, our decision making wasn’t real good, but we did a lot better job of that tonight. We knew coming in that Lincoln-Way East is a good team and a great program. We worked on playing together, and this was a good moral and mental game for us.

“I was very happy with how we played. It’s still early in the season, and the guys saw what they are capable of. Now, when we go up against strong teams, we will be excited and not scared.”

Clarke led Plainfield North with five kills, while Easton Isaacson had two kills and five assists, and Hill had a team-high nine assists.

For Lincoln-Way East, Marek had five kills, while Madan Sundaram had seven digs. Kyle Swarens had 18 assists and four digs, while Mason Marnul added nine assists. Webster had a team-high three blocks.

Lincoln-Way East’s Madan Sundaram receives the serve against Plainfield North on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

“We are a young team,” East coach Kris Fiore said. “We played four seniors tonight. The rest were either sophomores or juniors. We also are coming off spring break. We had a lot of matches before the break, so we only practiced once during spring break. We played very strong in the first set. In the second set, Plainfield North played a lot better, and we made a lot of hitting errors to keep them in it.

“We did a good job serving. Matthew is the type of server that can get aces. We use him right after Kyle Swarens, who is a finesse server that kind of floats it over to try and get the other team moving out of their offense and get points that way.”

After losing to Lockport in the regional championship last season, Muehlnickel and his teammates are looking for a better finish this time around.

“We have big goals,” Muehlnickel said. “After losing seven seniors from last year, some people might have counted us out a little bit. We’ve got a lot of talented guys on this team and they have been stepping up. By the end of the year, we want to show people that we are still here.”