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By Randy Whalen

The best boys' volleyball season in Joliet West history had come to an end. 

But not the appreciation for it.

The Tigers had lost to Bolingbrook in a regional title match on their own floor. The next day, Friday, May 24, coach Tara Litwicki penned and posted a letter of thanks on social media. 

It read as follows:

"To our incredible players, dedicated parents, and the ever-supportive community,

                                                   THANK YOU

Last night marked the end of a truly unforgettable season. We achieved something remarkable together! A record-breaking season that will be remembered for years to come. 30-6 and going undefeated (11-0) in conference is incredible!

Players, your talent, dedication, and teamwork were on full display all season long. You pushed yourself to new heights, trusted your coaches, trusted one another and made history. 

Parents and family, your unwavering support played a vital role in this journey. Thank you for cheering them on from the sidelines. fostering their passion, and being their constant source of encouragement. Thank you for your trust. 

Community, managers and staff, your enthusiasm and support fueled our team's spirit. It meant the world to see you stand behind us every step of the way. 

This accomplishment belongs to all of US.

Thank you for being a part of this incredible journey."

It was a great journey and there were many highlights along the way. One of which was an 18-25, 25-18, 25-22 win at West Aurora on Tuesday, May 14 in a winner-take-all match for the Southwest Prairie Conference championship. 

With the SPC already clinched, the Tigers totaled an undefeated league season two days later with a 25-21, 25-22 win over Oswego.

In the postseason, Joliet West was the No. 4 seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional. But the Tigers got to host their own regional and opened on Monday, May 20 with a 25-8, 25-13 win over Montini Catholic. The next day, they slipped past Providence 25-22, 22-25, 25-13 in a semifinal matchup.

But against No. 5 seeded Bolingbrook, the Tigers couldn't keep up in the final two sets and lost 17-25, 25-19, 25-17 on Thursday, May 23 in the title match.

It was the rubber match between the two teams, who both set school records for wins this year. No. 5 seeded Raiders (27-10 final record) then gave No. 1 seed Glenbard West an incredible match on Saturday, May 25 in the first semifinal of the Bolingbrook Sectional before losing 25-27 25-18 31-29. The Hilltoppers (38-4) went onto place third in the state. 

The Tigers (30-6) finished with the most wins in school history but fell short of winning their first regional title since 2015. 

Bolingbrook senior outside hitter Tristan Caminar finished with nine kills and three blocks. He was part of a balanced attack but was especially big with four kills in the third set. Junior outside hitter Trevor Wardlow (11 kills, ace), along with senior middle hitters Tristan Benbow, (10 kills) and Charlie Bialek (7 kills) also had big contributions as senior setter Connor Dmochowski (34 assists, 10 digs, ace) had his choice of options.

After losing the first set, the Raiders scored the first three points of the second set and led the whole way. Ahead 12-9, they went on an 8-2 burst capped off by a 4-0 run that saw Benbow and Caminar each put down a pair of kills.

The third set started better as there were six ties through 10-10. Up 12-11, Wardlow had an ace and Caminar creamed two straight kills in a 4-0 run. Ahead 19-16, the 'Brook closed it out on a 6-1 spurt, as Wardlow walloped two kills and the Tigers had a trio of hitting errors. 

"We made a lot of errors," said Litwicki, who also gave assistant coach Giana Kreiger a ton of credit for helping her in her head coaching journey the past two years. "In the second and third set, we couldn't pass. You can't do that in a match like this.

"But I have a lot of respect for Molly (DeSerf) and the culture that she brings to her team. It was a huge season for my team. We won 30 games and a (Southwest Prairie) Conference championship. Afterward, we were either going to celebrate a regional title or a great season. It was a great season and I can be proud of them."

The first set featured eight ties through 12-12. Ahead 14-13, senior outside hitter Thomas Fellows, who had a match-high 12 kills, had a kill and a block in a 10-2 Joliet West blitz that also saw five Raider hitting errors. 

“We worked really hard this season and I think our record reflects the work we put in," Fellows said. "We fought against many tough teams and earned every single win. 

"I am glad to be a part of such a historic team that will forever be remembered at Joliet West. We didn’t finish how we would have liked, but that will be something for the future teams of Joliet West to go and accomplish.”

Senior outside hitter Nathan Fleischauer (9 kills), junior right side hitter Drew Johnson (7 kills), junior middle hitter Michael Meloy (3 blocks), senior setter Landon Brouwer (25 assists), and senior libero Connor Herre (7 digs) also contributed for the Tigers.

Bolingbrook beat the Tigers 25-20, 17-25, 15-10 on March 22 at the Joliet West Tournament. Just over a week later, on March 30, the Raiders lost 25-12, 19-25, 25-19 in a rematch at the title match of the West Aurora Tournament.   

"We have been guilty of playing the same personality of the team on the other side of the net," DeSerf said. "We had to find our own identity as a team and slow things down in the last two sets. 

"Kudos to Joliet West and their coaching staff but it's a good feeling for us. It's hard to be the first one to win something and set that standard."

The Tigers deserved those kudos. There were all sorts of postseason accolades for them. Fellows, Fleischauer, Herre, and Johnson made the SPC All-Conference team and Brouwer was the league MVP.

The Illinois Volleyball Coaches Association (IVCA) awarded Brower, Fleischauer, and Herre Academic All-State Awards. Making the IVCA All-State Players Awards were Fellows and Fleischauer as Honorable Mention and Brouwer as a Second Team member. 

"This season was one that I will never forget," Brouwer said. "I have bonded with each and every one of my teammates and they truly feel like family. Winning our first-ever conference championship and breaking the win record with an astounding 30 wins are just of few of the things that we have accomplished this year.

"We didn’t conclude the season how we would have liked but we are still proud of what we have been able to accomplish for our school and our community. I’m proud to say I am and always will be a Tiger." 

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