Girls Volleyball soars through playoffs’ opening rounds, taking down opponents in 2 sets

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Megan Camacho

Lane’s Alexx Torres (13) prepares to serve as the bench anticipates an ace.

By Megan Camacho, Sports Editor

So far, I honestly believe that the only team that can beat us is ourselves. So as long as we mentally focus and play hard and everyone does their part, we’re going to do fine. ”

— Head Coach Norman Kwang

Varsity volleyball started the city playoffs this past week and took home two victories, winning in two sets against the Disney II Titans and Chicago Academy Cougars on Oct. 12 and Oct. 14.

Fueled by Tuesday’s confidence and Thursday’s Teacher Appreciation Night, the team was able to easily pass the first two rounds, straight into what could be a huge championship.

Lane was able to breeze through Tuesday’s game against the Titans, with the home team winning in two sets, 25-2, 25-3. Disney II as of Tuesday sat at first in the Chicago Public Blue  Conference, but an energized Lane team added a loss to the Titans’ clean record with better coordination and dominant attacks at the net. 

“I think everyone did well,” said varsity coach Norman Kwong. “I think our serving was on point. And you know, we came in here with energy, ready to play for playoffs.”

The Titans had the first serve, but a dig by Stella Smiejek gave Lane the first point of the night and quickly turned the round in favor of the home team. Rowan Cloum was Lane’s first server, giving Lane a commanding lead with a 12-point serving run, prolonged by powerful hits from Lane at the net and weak Disney coordination. The Titans’ communication and setup between setters and hitters were not as strong as Lane’s, with their only two points earned in the first set attributed to errors on Lane’s part such as a short serve and a misplaced hit. Ultimately, Lane paved a straight path to first set success, winning 25-2. 

Lane started the second set with another solid serving run from Alexx Torres, marked by several aces and relentless front row attacks. Torres’s run ended by a hit from the Titans, putting the score at 12-1. However, the roadblock in Lane’s serving run was merely a speedbump, with Disney failing to set up hitters and set up a rhythm on the receive. In contrast, Lane established a solid footing, looking to one another to set up an impenetrable defense. Powerful hits from Stella Smiejek, Aminah Ahmad, Olivia Crame and Kayla Stock brought Lane closer to 25. Although Lane had a short serve, giving Disney their final point of the night, Lane won 25-2 following a clash of blockers and hitters at the net.

Amidst communication and rhythm, the team was tested in keeping their dynamic together.

“I say [the game] was smooth sailing,” said Crame, “but our biggest challenge was just staying together as a team and trying to do our thing no matter what and perform to our high extent no matter what team we’re playing.”

In light of Tuesday’s success, Kwong noted the significance of every game and what the team can learn from the match.

“One thing I had them do was celebrate every point, regardless of who we’re playing,” said Kwong. “For playoffs, we have to be immensely ready for anything, so I think they did very well preparing for today.”

Heading into Round 2, Kwong believed they can maintain a winning streak if they can also maintain their confidence.

“So far, I honestly believe that the only team that can beat us is ourselves,” he said. “So as long as we mentally focus and play hard and everyone does their part, we’re going to do fine.”

Lane walked away Thursday night with another victory, winning in two sets, 25-14 and 25-12. But it was not without some difficulties. 

The gymnasium was full of what just Lane needed for a smooth second round against the Chicago Academy Cougars. The team’s energy was emboldened by Teacher Appreciation Night, where before the game, players gave gifts and posed for pictures with a selected teacher in honor of what they do for the players in the classroom. 

“We just really wanted to play to impress our teachers and show them thanks for everything they do,” said libero Vivien Bleck postgame.

Teachers, families and fellow students alike lined the bleachers as Round 2 began against the Cougars. The Cougars are seeded third in the Chicago Public Red North Conference, putting them at a slight disadvantage compared to Lane, who are seeded second in the Chicago Public Super Conference. Although Lane started the first set off strong with a 6-point serving run from Cloum, the scoring streak was ended by a solid block, earning the Cougars their first point of the night. 

Lane faced some mental lapses throughout the first set, with some tense, long volleys halted by low hits or disconnected rhythm. Powerful attacks from Smiejek, Ahmad and Cloum allowed Lane to maintain a slight lead over the Cougars, but the away team was able to collect points, chasing after Lane. The two teams exchanged attacks, advancing the scores, but Lane was able to run away to 25 with a serving run from Torres. A final ace from Torres would give the first set to Lane, 25-14.

Lane re-established their strengths in the second set. In the first half of the set, the Cougars were overwhelmed with hits from Smiejek and Ahmad, along with some missed digs and Lane inching past blocks. The second set was not perfect for both teams, evident in some misplaced hits and disconnected passing. Lane crawled past 20, establishing a solid but not totally commanding lead over the Cougars, who managed to rack up points with impressive saves and digs. But it wouldn’t be enough, Smiejek closing out the second set with a victory for Lane, 25-12. 

Although Lane didn’t completely play to their strengths on Thursday, their determination and eventual victory were an impressive show of the team’s bond.

“Energy today wasn’t as good as — well you know, usual,” Bleck said. “But we pushed through and it was a pretty easy dub. And our serves were awesome.”

Communication, according to Bleck, just needs to be tweaked if the team wants a smooth, successful ride through the championship. And when at full strength, Lane establishes an unstoppable defense.

“We’re really excited, kind of nervous, because we play Payton on Monday,” Bleck said. “We’ve gone three sets against them in past games. So yeah, that’ll be a fun game.”

Going into the quarterfinals, Kwong also thinks there’s room for improvement, especially regarding communication.

“We always gotta work on serving tough and just communicating,” said Kwong. We had a couple mental lapses today on a couple calls and we just gotta continue communicating with each other. I think we’re going to be fine, because we know defense wins games.”

Lane will play Walter Payton in their last home game on Oct. 18, a big matchup for both schools. The team will then be on the road to the semifinals if they advance past Payton.

Allegra Coleman contributed reporting for this story.