Boys volleyball: Junior-led Lockport stuns top-seeded Lincoln-Way East in 3

Porters win regional title on home floor

Lockport's Nathan Nacino hits a kill shot during the regional championship game against Lincoln-Way East on Thursday, May. 25, 2023, at Lockport.

LOCKPORT – Next year is here for the Lockport boys volleyball team.

With no senior starters, many thought the Porters were a year away from making a big playoff push. But instead they went out and rallied for a 19-25, 25-20, 25-21 win over top-seed Lincoln-Way East in the title match of the Lockport Regional on Thursday evening at the Lockport Central campus.

“It shows we do belong,” Lockport coach Nick Mraz said, “Sure, we are almost all juniors, but we said this could be a successful year now. We’ve got guys that are willing to do anything to grow.”

“Sure, we are almost all juniors, but we said this could be a successful year now. We’ve got guys that are willing to do anything to grow.”

—  Nick Mraz, Lockport boys volleyball

After winning three regional titles between 1993 and 2017, Lockport (29-9) has now captured four in the past five played seasons and three straight. The No. 4-seeded Porters will play host Lincoln-Way West, a 25-16, 25-18 winner over Plainfield East in the title match at Joliet West, on Saturday.

Lincoln-Way East (32-6), the state runner-up last season, saw its bid for a seventh straight regional title fall short. It’s just the second time in the past 12 years the Griffins haven’t advanced to sectional play.

“They played great volleyball,” Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said of the Porters. “The last two sets, they played clean, and we just couldn’t get any break for momentum.

“We knew it would be a battle playing in a tough environment, we’d have to respond. Still, this group worked their tails off. It’s a tough one and will sting for a while.”

After dropping the first set, the Porters found themselves down 14-13 in the second set. But they went on a 9-2 burst for a 22-16 lead as Lincoln-Way East had some uncharacteristic errors. Junior middle blocker Oskar Skurski (four kills, two blocks) had a block in the spurt and later a little dink kill to end the second set.

Lockport then jumped out to leads of 4-1, 9-4 and 10-5 in the final set. But back came the Griffins on a 6-0 tun, which was highlighted with a block by senior middle hitter Joey Glennon (six kills), and a kill from sophomore right side hitter Matt Muehlnickel (five kills).

But trailing 13-12, the Porters took control with a 7-2 spurt for a 19-15 advantage as junior outside hitter Nate Nacino notched three of his team-high 10 kills in the stretch.

“I just had a different state of mind,” Nacino said. “I didn’t let the excitement get to me. We had nothing to lose playing against East. No one expected us to win. We wanted to prove them wrong, and it’s the best feeling.”

The Griffins closed within two on three occasions, the last at 22-20. But each time Lockport responded, especially junior opposite side hitter Josh Bluhm (nine kills, three blocks), who had consecutive blocks to thwart any comeback attempt. His last one made it 23-20 and put the large contingent of Porter faithful, which included a lot of alumni, into a frenzy.

“I just pushed hard and got them,” the 6-foot-8-inch Bluhm said of his blocks. “Honestly, at the beginning of the season, I knew we’d make some noise. I knew from eighth grade on that this group was special. Beatling Lincoln-Way East for a regional championship is an unmatched feeling.

“But the job isn’t finished.”

A lift by the Griffins pushed Lockport a point from victory. Senior outside hitter Tyler Walenga, who had a match-high 13 kills and added four digs, saved a match point with a block, but Skurski smashed the match-winning kill off a Lincoln-Way East player to send the Porters into a celebration of their third straight regional title.

“I just couldn’t have imagined it better for myself,” Skurski said of the match-winner. “I imagined us getting this win all week, and anyone would want that ending moment. It’s one I will never forget.”

Lockport led 10-7 in the first set, but the Griffins took charge with a 13-3 blitz for a 20-13 lead and coasted to the opening win.

Junior outside hitter Trey Marek had five kills. Sam Yacobozzi (five kills, three blocks) at middle hitter, Brenden Reutter (26 assists) at setter and Aiden Olsen (six digs) at libero also contributed for the Griffins, who had nine seniors.

The Porters junior trio of Wade Welkie (eight kills) at outside hitter, Evan Dziadkowiec (36 assists) at setter and Kevin Rodriguez (15 digs) were also big.