The top two outside hitters from the Southland clashed in a Marist Sectional semifinal on Friday night.
But when the dust settled, it was Jake Walenga and Lincoln-Way North advancing past Mitch Weiler and Brother Rice.
Walenga followed his 24-kill performance in a win over Lincoln-Way West with 20 kills against the Crusaders as North continues to survive early deficiencies with a 15-25, 25-18, 25-20 comeback victory.
“We had this talk at the beginning of the year about the optimal level of arousal,” Walenga said. “Some teams get too fired up and that makes them play worse — some don’t get fired up enough. We try to find that middle ground. We might not start the hottest, but I think that’s how we roll.”
Brad McFarland added eight kills and some big-time serves, Kenny Christensen had seven kills and Austin Faller recorded 36 assists for the Phoenix (34-4).
North advances to meet No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (37-1) 7 p.m. Tuesday at Marist. It will be the pair’s fifth meeting this season with East leading the season series 3-1.
Weiler, a Ball State recruit who was recently named an All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, finished with 19 kills for Brother Rice (35-3). The loss ends a 25-match win streak for the Crusaders.
Kevin Myren and David Kelly notched seven kills apiece and Jim Dwyer dished 31 assists in what turned out to be coach Paul Ickes’ last match with the program.
“Going out like this is tough,” Weiler said. “Being Br. Ickes last season, I’m really down right now, but I’m really excited for the future of Brother Rice.”
Weiler torched North for seven kills and two blocks in Game 1, but North made adjustments and tried to force Weiler to hit line or roll shots over the block the rest of the match.
“Our guys did an excellent job of keying in and overcoming the big players like Mitch Weiler and Kevin Myren,” McFarland said.
The energy shifted in Games 2 and 3 as North picked up its defense behind 21 digs from Scott Dusek. Consecutive kills by Walenga in the third set gave North a 13-9 lead it would never relinquish.
“Matt Lawrence and North made some great adjustments in (Games) two and three that we just did not adjust well to,” Ickes said. “They didn’t flip out after losing by 10 points in Game 1.
“I’m really proud of my guys with having to deal with my transition. It’s been a long goodbye for the last three months. They’ve been amazing and I will always treasure my time with this group.”