Ava Swanson had one job. And unlike the internet memes mocking spectacular failures, things could not have gone better Wednesday night.
The Loyola Academy sophomore is a service specialist, and opened the sectional championship with the ball. By the time she gave it up, the Ramblers had a 10-0 lead.
“I just go in to serve, that’s my only job,” Swanson said. “Being able to get that big of a run on a good team (like New Trier) and especially to help my team win the first set was just awesome.
The Ramblers carried that momentum into a 15-1 lead and an eventual 25-16 victory, before overpowering the Trevians late in set two to earn a 25-22 victory and a sectional championship, their second in four seasons (2018).
Swanson could tell right away her floating serve was moving well off her hand. During the early run, the mystified the Trevians defense, leading to four aces in the 10 points — not bad for a sophomore who played the entire season on the JV team.
“We saw a lot of amazing stuff like that from her all season playing libero on JV,” Loyola coach Mallory Thelander said. “I thought, ‘Let’s bring her up for the postseason.’ We didn’t know she was going to play this role, but she played it so well at JV this season that it is just natural for her.”
Down 15-1, New Trier’s first-set fate was all but sealed. Still, the Trevians kept at it.
New Trier outscored Loyola 15-10 the rest of the way, and while it was too little too late, coach Hannah Hsieh said it gave her team energy heading into the second set.
“We needed to not think of the score,” she said. “We said, ‘We just need to start playing our game to even get us back in this.’ That rolled us right into that second set and I’m proud of the fight we were able to show after that.”
The second set unraveled as expected for a high-level sectional bout. New Trier had an early 5-2 lead, but after the Ramblers evened things at 5-5, the North Shore rivals jockeyed back and forth until late.
New Trier attackers Katherine McGregor (team-high 10 kills) and Ana Vetter had six kills apiece in the set to mitigate Loyola’s robust front row.
The set was tied 21-21 when a Grace Kreutz kill put Loyola in the driver’s seat at 22-21. A few plays later an Ava Bogan kill was followed by a Kreutz ace to finish the match.
Kreutz had a team-high nine kills, and the sophomore has become a powerful complement to Loyola’s Division-I middle combo of Bogan (6 kills, 3 blocks) and Catherine Burke (4 kills, 2 blocks).
“What I love from her is … when she’s in for those three rotations she does everything she can to find a way to get a kill,” Thelander said. “And hitting line has really been effective for her. She just loves to hit the ball like she’s 6 (foot) 5.”
Hsieh said amid adversity, including the loss of their starting setter (out-of-state move) and multiple injuries, the Trevians accomplished plenty with their 2022 season.
New Trier played without a starting middle (Sophia Gabuzzi) all season and a top outside option (Emma McHatten) much of the season and filled its setter spots with players (Alex Belak and Jenny Perkins) new to the position.
The Trevians potentially return all of those players and more. Fourteen of 16 on the roster are underclassmen who have now played through a sectional championship.
“This is great experience for all the girls,” Hsieh said. “We talk about the excitement of playoffs and a lot of the lower-level girls are here … and it’s good for them to see.
“I hope they are hungry because this is a team that should be competing to go down state next year.”
Loyola Academy will get their chance to do just that on Friday, Nov. 6, when they take on St. Charles East at 6 p.m. in the Hinsdale Central Super-sectional.
The state finals are scheduled for the following weekend, Friday-Saturday, Nov. 11-12, at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.