By Randy Whalen
Mother McAuley expects to win plenty of matches this season, but the Mighty Macs got off to a tough start last week with two straight losses to open 2019.
In the season opener Tuesday, Aug. 27, the Mighty Macs showed moments of flash and power. They also showed inconsistencies and that led to a lot of wild swings, and ultimately ended up on the wrong side of a 25-17, 24-26, 25-20 loss to visiting Joliet Catholic.
The next day, McAuley fell 25-20, 25-19 on the road to 2018 Class 4A state runner-up Downers Grove North.
"That's not what we've seen in practice, we've been practicing at a lot higher caliber than we showed," McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said after the JCA match. "It's all about passing and we were really inconsistent with that."
The Angels, who improved to 6-0 by winning the Oswego East/Metea Valley Tournament on Aug. 31, were playing without five players, including starting junior outside hitters Jillian Gray and Emily Wilson, who were out with injuries. But that didn't stop them from vaulting out to first set leads of 5-0, 9-1, 14-3, and 18-6.
That last deficit seemed to finally wake up the Mighty Macs, as junior middle blocker Ella O'Neill (7 kills) put down a pair of kills in an 8-3 burst that closed them within 21-14. But they never got closer than seven points.
The second set looked like more of the same as JCA jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then used a 5-0 run to go ahead 12-7. But the Mighty Macs came back to tie it at 13-13. That was the first of 11 ties the rest of the way. Trailing 23-22, McAuley closed out the second set on a 4-1 run what included three kills by junior middle blocker Abby Sarich (9 kills, 3 blocks).
"Our blocking was on and much better in the second set," DeJarld said. "Our execution was on down the stretch of the second set."
The third set was tied 5-5 when the Angels embarked on a 13-1 blitz for an 18-6 lead, Senior libero Erin O'Grady (10 digs) had three aces in the burst, junior outside hitter Emily Surin (10 kills, 15 digs, 2 blocks) smacked three kills and junior right side hitter Kristen Leuszler added a pair of blocks and a kill in the stretch.
McAuley didn't quit, pulling within 23-19 on back-to-back aces by junior defensive specialist Anna Jaworowski, and then 24-20 on a kill from junior outside hitter Connie LeBel (11 kills). But a long return ended the match.
"It was like we were waiting to see what level we had to kick it up to," DeJarld said. "We have to kick it up and get to that level a lot earlier.”
Sophomore Riley Hungate stepped at outside hitter for JCA in her first ever varsity match and led the way with 10 kills. Senior middle blocker Bella Ray banged 9 kills and added 5 blocks, junior setter Ryan Hinshaw handed out 35 assists, and senior libero Erin O'Grady added 10 digs.
Senior setter Devyn Petrowski passed out 15 assists and senior defensive specialist Grace Niego added 10 digs for the Mighty Macs.
In the Downers Grove North match, LeBel (5 kills), junior right-side hitter Molly McDermott (4 kills) and Petrowski (7 assists) led the way for McAuley (0-2).
"Our schedule doesn't get any easier," said DeJarld as the Mighty Macs next three matches were against Sandburg, Nazareth and St. Francis. "We have a little bit of time before our first tournament (on Sept. 13 and 14 in Louisville, Kentucky) and we are going to need that.”