JOLIET – After Joliet Catholic struggled in a loss Saturday against Buffalo Grove and ahead of a Tuesday battle with powerhouse Marist, Angels coach Kisha Cameron decided her team needed a big change.
As she showed in Tuesday’s 25-18, 25-13 win over rival Providence Catholic in a nonconference clash, junior Carmella Cook was ready for it.
Cook, who typically plays setter, volunteered to step into the libero spot.
“On Saturday, I decided we had to change it,” Cameron said. “I asked, ‘Who’s stepping up?’ On Monday, [Cook] came to me and asked me if she could do it. I said, ‘Against Marist? OK.’ She did great that night, so we figured we’d do it again. Marist is a pretty freaking tough opponent, and she was confidently passing, confidently digging, taking aggressive serves and aggressive swings, and I think that gave her the confidence.
“She’s not a trained libero. She’s actually a setter. I think that was her initial hesitation where she was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ But when I came to the team and said we needed to make a change, she came and asked for it, and I was like, ‘Thank you!’ ”
Although Joliet Catholic lost to Marist, the Angels found something that clicked with Cook in the lineup. That paid off Thursday, as she produced six digs and four aces to help host Joliet Catholic roll.
“I just wanted to be in there, and I wanted to help my team,” Cook said. “Since I’m also a setter, I can get to those out-of-system balls, and I talked to Kisha about that. I thought I could really be a help for our team.
“Playing Marist, even though we lost, I felt like we did a really good job staying low on defense, and we fought and played a really good match. That gave us confidence going into this match.”
Brooke Simon had five kills, Zoe Girard added seven digs, Heavenly Sarfo had three kills, and Jess Horn finished with 15 assists and four aces for Joliet Catholic (12-5).
Abbey Knight finished with six kills and two blocks, while Payton Mandac had two kills and an ace for Providence (6-4).
Cook helped the Angels clean up some problems with their serve receive. Switching positions was something the 5-foot-5 junior embraced.
“It’s actually really fun,” Cook said. “I always wanted to be a libero because I know I’m not that tall for a setter, so I probably won’t get far as a setter. Playing libero is so fun. You’re always there on the court, getting those balls up.
“I’m just glad I got this opportunity that Coach gave me to get on the court and help my team.”
“I’m just glad I got this opportunity that Coach gave me to get on the court and help my team.”— Carmella Cook, Joliet Catholic girls volleyball
Sarfo, meanwhile, is another new addition to the starting lineup at middle hitter.
Providence started fast, leading 9-6 in the opener before Joliet Catholic went on a 13-2 surge to take control. Sarfo was at the center of that, putting down two key kills and a block.
“I think a lot of people don’t expect it from me, so when I do it, it kind of takes them off their feet,” Sarfo said. “They don’t think it’s going to happen a lot, so I just do it again. I think that really gets us all going.
“I think at first we kind of assumed we were going to win, but once they showed that they weren’t going to give it to us, we did everything we could to take over the game. We took everything to heart.”
Providence never recovered after letting the first game get away. The Angels opened the second with three straight aces from Horn and never looked back. Cook added three aces of her own during a 6-0 run with her at the service line.
“Coming into a place like this, you always think about starting strong, and we did that versus folding under the pressure,” Providence coach Lee Rucinski said. “Once we got up, it wasn’t necessarily that we got comfortable, but we stopped being the aggressor. Once you allow a team like that to be the aggressor, we can’t play on our heels the entire match against them.”