Jerry Moylan made a transition to being a setter a couple of years ago.
It’s worked out well for the Lincoln-Way East senior and his hitters help too.
Moylan passed out 19 assists and the Griffins used a balanced attack to defeat O’Fallon 25-17, 25-23 in a state quarterfinal match on Friday afternoon at Hoffman Estates.
Making its sixth state quarterfinal appearance in the past eight played seasons, Lincoln-Way East (34-6) will bring home its fifth trophy in that span and sixth in school history on Saturday. The Griffins will face Downers Grove South, which rallied past New Trier 20-25, 25-22, 25-21, at 11 a.m. Saturday morning in the second semifinal. They defeated Downers Grove South 25-22, 25-18 on March 26 at the Marist Tournament.
“Everyone of them is an All-State player,” Moylan said of his hitters. “So I know one of them is going to connect.
“I was a right side hitter freshman and part of my sophomore season. Then I made the transition to setter and now I’m setting for a Top 4 team in the state.”
Lincoln-Way East coach, Kris Fiore, is happy Moylan made the move and is also happy he has so many options.
“We had seven, seven, six, and four kills,” said Fiore of his top hitters. “Plus, they all hit at a high percentage. That’s what makes us hard to defend.”
Senior Jared Byas and fellow outside hitter, junior Tyler Walenga, each had seven kills to pace Lincoln-Way East. Byas hit at a .636 percentage with no errors. Senior middle hitter Jordan Hicks hammered six kills and three blocks, senior right side hitter Jon Guch added four kills and two blocks, Moylan managed two blocks, and senior libero Sam Szafoni had nine digs for the Griffins, who hit at a .288 percentage in the match.
“Mostly we came in here with a lot of adrenaline,” Hicks said. “My job is mainly to pull the middles away from our pin hitters. But I’ve also learned to hit the ball around the block well.”
Sophomore middle hitter Nathan Finck led O’Fallon (25-9-1) with seven kills. Junior outside hitter Camryn Sheehan added six kills and senior setter Alec Koesterer distributed 17 assists and added three kills for the Panthers, who had a .133 hitting percentage.
In the opener, Lincoln-Way East never trailed, using back-to-back blocks by Guch to go on a 5-0 run for a 7-2 lead. Ahead 19-14, Hicks had two kills in a 5-0 run to move the Griffins a point away. O’Fallon saved three set points, but Walenga walloped a kill to end it.
The Panthers, who were making their second-ever state quarterfinal appearance, losing 29-31, 26-24, 25-20 to Vernon Hills in 2015, had early leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the second set. But with the score tied at 12-12, O’Fallon committed its fifth service error of the set and seventh of the match and the Griffins grabbed the lead for good.
Still, trailing 21-20, the Panthers went on a 4-0 run to close to a point on a kill by senior outside hitter Connor Sorgea and later got to 24-23 on a block by junior middle hitter Christian McGowan. But following a time out, Guch garnered the match-winner.
“We just played our game,” Walenga said. “They fought hard but we found a way to finish the match and that’s what good teams do.”
For O’Fallon, it was a great season that ended after a nice run to the quarterfinals.
“Our service errors hurt us quite a bit and we hit negative in the first set.” O’Fallon coach Amy Sheehan said. “But we progressively got better as the year went on and our playoff run was incredible. The boys responded as it went on we said, ‘let’s start eliminating teams.’ It’s great until you’re the team that’s eliminated. But that’s a very good Lincoln-Way East team that is moving on.”
Yes, the Griffins are and they hope their every four-year state title streak can continue. They won state championships in 2014 and 2018, were second in 2017, and fourth last season.
“Just from Day 1, we’ve done a lot of team bonding,” Guch said. “We’ve wanted this since we started the season.”