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By Randy Whalen

Sometimes it's an observation by an opposing coach that sums things up well.

Take the Joliet Central at Providence boys volleyball matchup as an example. 

The Steelmen began a busy 3-day stretch by traveling right down the street and faced Providence in a local matchup on Tuesday, April 2 in New Lenox. While the Celtics won 25-19, 25-20, Joliet Central's improvement continued to show. 

"They have definitely got a lot better over the last couple of years," said Providence coach Lee Rucinski, whose squad defeated the Steelmen 25-18, 25-23 last year in Joliet. "They have a lot of nice pieces and made us work for every point we got. 

"Also No. 1 has a cannon for an arm and can jump out of the gym."

No. 1 is Joliet Central outside hitter Joseis Dixon, who finished with a match-high 11 kills and added five digs. 

Not bad for someone who is 5-foot-9 and also plays percussion in the school symphonic band. 

"I'm trying," Dixon said. "I rolled my right ankle early in the season so I'm still coming off of that injury. But I was prepared, I was locked in."

What about doubling up as a percussion player and an outside hitter?

"I'm in two completely different arenas," Dixon said. "But I'm still hitting a lot of things in both.

"I just want to keep improving my stats and helping the team. We were away from volleyball for a couple of days (with Easter break) and have now jumped back in. We'll get better."

Dixon had a majority of the Steelmen spikes against Providence. But he was joined by junior outside hitter Marco Jasso (3 kills, 3 digs), and sophomore setter Logan Novak (16 assists, 6 digs). 

"Joseis Dixon is a senior and has been on varsity since he was a freshman," Joliet Central coach Kevin O'Connell said. "He has a lot of knowledge of the game and is a true leader on the court. Marco Jasso is a junior and this is his second year on varsity. His skills on the court are incredible."

Jasso is optimistic for this season.

"We just came off of a close match with Oswego," he said of a 22-25, 25-21, 15-13 loss to a good Panther team on Saturday, March 30 in the second match of the West Aurora Tournament. "This (Providence match) was another winnable one. 

"It was just our mistakes. Once we minimize our mistakes we'll be a lot better than last year. I like seeing our younger guys do well. We have a lot of sophomores."

There were seven ties through 10-10 in the first set against the Celtics. But trailing 10-9, Providence went up for good with a 4-0 run that included a pair of Steelment errors and was capped on an ace by senior outside hitter Isaac Krabbe. Joliet Central got back within 19-17 on a Jasso kill but a 6-2 sput ended it. 

In the second set, the Steelmen led 3-1 but Providence went on a 4-0 run to take the lead. Tied at 6-6, the Celtics had an 8-2 burst to take the lead for good and led by as many as eight. Joliet Central continued to battle and closed within four points on four occasions. But a block by junior middle hitter Hayden Hill ended it. 

Hill led the way for Providence (7-5) with six kills. Junior outside hitter Sean Dovin had five kills, junior opposite side hitter Jackson Fowler found two kills and three blocks, and junior setter Nico Krabbe contributed 18 assists for the Celtics, who traveled down the street and lost 25-16, 27-25 to Lincoln-Way West (9-1) the next day. 

The next day for the Steelmen brought a trip to Crete-Monee. Unfortunately, it was also a loss by the score of 25-21, 25-23. Dixon led the way with eight kills and two aces. Jasso and Novak, who had 13 assists, added seven digs apiece.  

Then on Thursday, April 5, Joliet Central was on the road again for the Southwest Prairie Conference opener. That was a 25-15, 25-20 loss to the host Panthers (9-5, 1-0) at Oswego. Dixon had six kills and Jasso added two but the Steelmen were limited to nine kills total as a team.  

The trio of losses this week left Joliet Central with a 3-9 overall mark, including 0-1 in the SPC. Coming off of a 5-28 record last season, the Steelmen knew that they should be better this season and they are. They haven't had more than five wins in a season since 2017 but figure to race past that mark this season. 

"We are having a great start to our season with three wins in our first two tournaments, it's probably the best we have had in over seven years," O'Connell said. "The boys have worked hard in the offseason, playing club and playing recreationally. This is a very athletic team with a lot of love for the game.

"We have great returning players such as (junior right side hitter) Jonathan Rios, (junior defensive specialist) Brody Walsh, (junior libero) Conrado Mendez, and (senior middle hitter) Jeffery Brown. The most exciting part of this team is the underclassmen with sophomores Logan Novak (setter), Logan Wright (middle hitter), and Mason Lipuma (right side). Having them on the team has really helped us grow as a team. The depth and the versatility we have on the team is amazing. I am excited to see what this team will do in non-conference/conference this year. This will be a great season!"

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