By Julia Huebner
Walter Payton’s boys Varsity volleyball team traveled to the state tournament on June 6, placing sixth overall. This was the third year in a row that the team advanced to the state competition.
The Grizzlies entered the court with an impressive 30-7 record, numerically indicating a long season of success. On June 6 they faced the Warren Township Blue Devils in the Illinois quarterfinal match. A fan bus accompanied the boys to Hoffman Estates, representing Payton’s spirit and raising the morale of the team.
The Grizzlies initially maintained a lead in the first game of the match. Brandon Taylor, who cheered on the Grizzlies, commented that, “once the [first] match started, it looked as if we would win with no problem.”
To the dismay of Payton players and fans, the Blue Devils made a comeback at the end of the first game to tie and then prevail by two points, narrowly securing a win of 27-25. Ryan Krull, with 168 kills and 75 blocks this season, noted that he “sensed a bit of discouragement” after the first loss, and that his team members were a “bit [shaken],” before the second game. The Grizzlies could not secure a strong lead throughout the second game due to an improvement in Warren’s defense and errors made by Payton, a player commented. The Blue Devils won again, this time by 25-19, concluding Payton’s 2013-2014 season.
Taylor said that he was “surprised that the outcome of the match wasn’t in our favor, but it was a truly great effort by our team.”
Team members were much more critical of their performance on Friday. Max Donovan, with 115 kills and 66 blocks this season, commented that, “Warren is a team we could have and should have [beat] but we made too many errors. Warren didn’t defeat us, we defeated ourselves.”
Krull echoed his teammate’s sentiment. “We knew we could win that game,” he commented. “We made mistakes and they capitalized [on them].”
Even with the loss to Warren, the boy’s 30-8 record is the best one in the team’s history. The team flirted with the chance to be State Finalists in both 2012 and 2013, but lost in the quarterfinals both years. The coach, Casey Feeny, commented to the Chicago Tribune that Payton faced disadvantages even before hitting the court on June 6. He recognized the detriments of the lack of ability to play high caliber teams during the regular season, whereas the teams Payton faces in upper-level matches have had this experience. His players, including Donovan, agree. “Suburban teams were able to play very high level volleyball before coming to state [unlike Payton’s team].”
This was the last high school match for Earl Schultz, Lincoln Wang, and Alex Brown, who graduated as of June 2. Schultz impressed many with his record of 1,200 kills during his high school career, including 429 kills this season. Donovan commented that losing these teammates will be “a very big loss.”
Even without these strong forces leading the team through the next season, current members expect their team to continue to improve with the aid of talented, younger players. One such a member is rising junior Matt Mata, future setter for the team, with 301 assists this season. Donovan voiced these expectations, “I see us being able to do very well in the city next year and very possibly have another trip downstate.”
Although the interscholastic season has concluded, these players will continue to improve in preparation for next season. Many will play beach volleyball this summer as well as bump, set, and spike on the Powerhouse club team. The interscholastic season will recommence in late February to early March of 2015, a team member comments.
A Chicago Public League team has never advanced past quarterfinals at the boys state tournament. However, with the continued determination these young men and a community to cheer them on, Payton can expect success in future seasons from the Grizzlies.