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West Athletic Feature Story

The Joliet West boys' volleyball team is going to have a good season.

The Tigers are certainly off to a good start, with a 5-2 record through March 26. They went 4-1 and finished first in the Silver Division of their tournament, The Joliet West Invitational, which was held on Friday, and Saturday, March 22 and 23.

"We have a confidence about this year that is just different," Joliet West coach Tara Litwicki said. "We learn from our mistakes and keep going.

While Joliet West's latest result wasn't what they wanted, it was against a Top 10 team in the state, That was Lockport Township, which defeated the Tigers, 25-14, 25-23 on Tuesday morning, March 26, in a matinee matchup between two longtime rivals in Lockport. 

Coming off a second-place Gold Division finish on March 23 at the Marist Invite, the Porters (6-1) used their veteran savvy and also took advantage of some Joliet Weast mistakes to pull out the win. 

The second set showed that the Tigers could hang with a team like Lockport, but Litwicki lamented that they didn't show more urgency sooner. 

"We can't wait until the end to play, especially knowing that we're going against a good team like Lockport," she said. "We can't make those mistakes. They have a lot of good hitters and we can't wait to go make those plays. That wasn't the way our team had played. 

"But these matches are good for us. We just have to take advantage of our opportunities."

Joliet West scored the first point in the match, but behind a kill and a pair of blocks by 6-foot-8 opposite side hitter, Josh Bluhm, the Porters scored the next five points and never looked back. Ahead 6-4, Bluhm (6 kills, 3 blocks, 5 digs) banged another kill to start a 4-0 run and the Tigers never got closer than four points the rest of the way.

But the second set was excellent. There were 17 ties, including at every point through 8-8, and five lead changes, The Tigers' largest lead was two points, at 10-8 and 11-9. But they couldn't pull away. Trailing 19-18, the Porters took advantage of a trio of errors in a 4-0 run for their largest lead at 21-18. 

Nate Fleischauer, however, capped a 3-0 run with a kill to tie the score at 22-22. But a long serve and an untouched ace from senior libero Kevin Rodriguez put the Porters a point from victory. 

But Fleischauer, who led Joliet West with six kills, came back with another one to narrow the lead to one. The last point came on a good rally before Bluhm banged a final kill to end it.

"We started slow but we have the talent to keep up with them," Joliet West senior setter Landon Brouwer said. "We could have won if we would have played sharper. 

"We have a whole bunch of seniors and we have good leadership."

Brouwer, who finished with 16 assists, two kills, and a block in the match, is one of six seniors on the team. Libero Connor Herre, who led the team defensively with six digs, is another one. Junior right side hitter Drew Johnson added three kills against Lockport. 

Evan Dziadkowiec, who is in his fourth year as the starting setter for Lockport, showed why he's among the best players in the state as he had 19 assists and two kills. Outside hitter, Nate Nacino, who is among the 10 Porter seniors, led the team with seven kills.

The season opened on Wednesday, March 20 with a 25-19, 25-11 win at Chicago Christian. Senior outside hitter Thomas Fellows and junior outside hitter Dejon Jennings, each had four kills in the win. 

In their tournament pool play, on Friday, March 22, the Tigers defeated Von Stuben 25-17, 25-13 but then lost to Bolingbrook 25-20, 17-25, 15-10. The Raiders (7-1 through March 26) finished second in the Gold Division, losing to Lincoln-Way West 25-20, 17-25, 25-16 in the title match. The Warriors were 7-0 through March 26. 

In Silver Division bracket play, on Saturday, March 23, the Tigers toppled Edwardsville 25-21, 25-18. Then they beat Joliet Catholic Academy 25-17, 25-22, and got past Wheaton North 25-21, 21-25, 25-16 to win the Silver. 

"We have good bonding and a good team," Brouwer said. "The energy in the gym in our Bolingbrook match was great. I still think that we have another gear in us and it's good to see our competitive nature come out."