Carmel seniors drive win over Lake Forest

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MUNDELEIN — To this group of three Carmel girls volleyball seniors, the little things matter.

The Corsairs are a talented bunch, featuring the relentless attack of Drake-bound outside hitter Grace Schofield, the tireless defensive play of libero Sierra Kepski and instinctive passes of setter Morgan Meade. They are the main reason Thursday night’s 25-11, 25-21 victory over Lake Forest on senior night at Salvi Gym was the team’s 21st against four losses.

But before each match or practice, small tasks are accomplished. To the seniors, that’s when the Corsairs’ winning culture has been cultivated.

“It’s really important to know everything that goes on behind the scenes,” Kepski said. “It’s not just executing on the floor. It’s how you do it in practice.”

Kepski was referring to seemingly benign actions like pre-practice stretching or setting up the net before a match. At Carmel, these actions are performed as a cohesive unit.

If practice is scheduled for 3:15 p.m., that’s when it starts. All players are on the floor and warming up. To Kepski, Meade, Schofield and senior student manager Sydney Gallagher, that’s when match victories are hatched.

“We don’t want anyone to be late or setting up the nets by themselves. The roles we take on as a team, we split up equally,” said Schofield, who had 10 kills against the Scouts. “The small tasks, when your teammates do them, it makes you feel good.”

Carmel was never challenged by Lake Forest (11-16). The Scouts did get as close as 12-10 in the second game, but a Schofield spike sparked a 6-0 run. After that, the Corsairs pulled several starters.

Lake Forest climbed back and again got to within a two-point margin at 22-20. Pazely inserted Scofield back into the match, and she promptly served up a winner to make it 23-20. A service error again got the Scouts to within two points, but a drop shot from Meade and out call on a Scouts kill attempt ended the match.

Although just 5-foot-1, Kepski will play college volleyball next season at IUPUI. Facing an overmatched Lake Forest team, she played with dogged determination (seven digs, two service aces). It’s a characteristic her coach, Dave Pazely, has witnessed frequently over three years of varsity play.

“Every year she has come to my room at least once a week in the offseason to say, ‘Hey, can we try this? Hey, can we do this? Hey, have you thought of this?’ Usually we are on the same page,” Pazely said. “The girl has changed the way I coach.”

The backdrop of Thursday night was largely ceremonial. Carmel still has a lot of volleyball left to play, including two home regular season matches. Because the East Suburban Catholic Conference split into divisions this season, North Division Carmel will not face South Division powers Benet and Marist (both are ranked in the Sun-Times Top 10 poll). But wins over current North Division leader Nazareth on Oct. 16 and Marian Central Oct. 21 could result in a divisional title.

Those matches will come. On Thursday night — in front of family, friends and a loud student body — Carmel’s seniors celebrated each other for what they’ve accomplished and for what is yet to come.

“[Sydney Gallagher] had a good quote [during a pre-match ceremony] talking about how when you were a little girl that you just loved volleyball so much,” Kepski said. “[Tonight] was about remembering the reason you started playing in the first place.”

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