GRANT PARK — High school volleyball in Illinois is played to 25 points, and no one knew that better than Kankakee and Grant Park on Tuesday night.
After going back-and-forth through the first 15 points of each set, the Dragons pulled away at the end of each, defeating the Kays 2-0 (25-18, 25-19), in what Dragons coach Nina Zalewski said was a true team effort.
“Honestly, it was collective; it starts with hitting, but when they had the chance, our hitters knew what to do with the ball,” Zalewski said. “It started with the passing and ended with the hitting, so I can’t complain.”
The two squads went blow for blow in the first set, as neither team was able to build a multi-point lead until reaching double digits. However, the Dragons were able to pull away at the end and take the first set.
Kays coach Dennis Pommier said his team’s five missed serves in the first set were the difference.
“Not only does it give [Grant Park] a point, but it also swings the momentum,” Pommier said. “Then, they started putting balls in play, giving us some free balls; we just couldn’t do anything with it.”
The two biggest momentum swings of the match came one right after the other. With the Kays trailing the second set 15-11, Adeline Pereda stepped to the service line and caught fire. She picked up three aces in four serves and helped push the Kays ahead 16-15.
But after a Grant Park timeout, the Dragons won two long, strenuous volleys in a row to regain a 17-16 lead that wouldn’t be relinquished.
“I know that sometimes, with teams going back and forth, back and forth, you kind of lose that steam, that stamina,” Zalewski said. “I was proud that the girls kicked it into that final gear and kept playing until that whistle blew.”
Pommier said he was waiting for a player to step up and become a playmaker Tuesday, and Pereda did that, but the Kays couldn’t maintain the spark she provided.
“Momentum, once you get it, you can’t give it up,” Pommier said. “What Adeline did there put us ahead, and what you have to do is be able to finish the set.”
The Dragons were led by a strong performance from Hadleigh Loitz, who had eight digs, eight assists, five kills and a pair of aces. Madison Meherg led the Dragons with eight kills, Sophie Nagi raked up 14 digs, and Rylee Panozzo had a pair of blocks.
Pereda led the Kays with three aces, as well as picking up a team-high six assists and tying for the team lead with three kills. She was tied in kills with Aariasha Dabney, who, with Sierra Anderson, had a team-high nine digs.
The Dragons improved to 1-1 and will be in action at the Manteno Early Bird Tournament at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The Kays fell to 2-4 and will play in the Joliet Central Invite at 9 a.m. Saturday.