Lyons have success with quirky three-defender combination

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HINSDALE — Joann Pyritz has coached Lyons’ girls volleyball team since 1989 and has won two state championships.

The longtime coach has found another winning combination this season, but it’s built around defense.

With Wisconsin-bound setter Hannah Juley, Lyons has an elite passer. But Pyritz has found an unusual way of getting sometimes three defensive players on the floor at the same time when most teams will have only one or two on the court.

“Our goal is to outlast the opposing team on long rallies, because we can,” Pyritz said.

When junior Marina Gonzalez comes off the bench to serve, Pyritz uses three defensive players, including junior Madisen Babich and senior libero Toni Saracco.

“We’ve got a good trio here,” Saracco said.

Jessi Skonning had a team-high nine kills and Lindsey Oettel added seven kills and two blocks Oct. 7 in a win over Hinsdale Central.

“They are all good students and they all like each other,” Pyritz said. “They are assertive personalities on the floor. They enjoy big games like this [against Hinsdale Central]. They respond positively to the pressure.”

Although Saracco might be the one wearing the opposite-colored jersey, Lyons’ defensive set is like having three liberos on the floor.

When asked what Lyons’ three defensive players have in common, Babich said they each have an outgoing personality and a passion for dancing.

“I feel like we’ve got each other’s back no matter what,” Babich said. “There was a free ball that I jumped on in front of Toni. We don’t argue [about who gets the ball].”

In the second game, Gonzalez came in to serve Lyons to a 12-9 lead on Juley’s kill. Two points earlier, Babich made a one-handed save at the sideline. During a rally that gave Lyons a 13-10 lead, it was Babich’s turn with another one-handed save along the opposite sideline.

With only 18 substitutions allowed per match, it’s important that Pyritz pick and choose situations that allow her to put in defensive players.

“Passing and defense really sets the tone for our game,” Pyritz said.

Lyons’ defensive-first philosophy worked against the Devils, which had a match-high 13 kills and two aces from 6-3 San Diego-bound outside hitter Lauren Fuller. No other Hinsdale Central player had more than three kills.

“It’s a great feeling like no other,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t find it on any other teams [to compare to] when all three of us are on the court.”

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