Downers North goes to the middle in win

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Junior-dominated Downers North, which graduated nearly its entire lineup from last year, is starting to figure it out.

On the heels of their third-place finish at last weekend’s Schaumburg invite, the Trojans rode the performance of junior middle hitters Jonathan Poortinga and Michal Mierzwa to a 32-30, 25-18 upset of No. 10 Lyons in West Suburban Silver play Tuesday in Downers Grove.

Poortinga had nine kills and six blocks and Mierzwa added four kills and two blocks for Downers North (7-6, 3-0).

“We don’t normally set the middles that much, but we saw that their middles were a bit slower so we tried to take advantage of that,” Poortinga said. “We’re definitely starting to play better as a team. I think it’s just knowing who’s going to be where. You can prepare much better.”

Downers North led most of the way through the marathon first game, although rarely by more than a point or two. Lyons (8-2, 2-1) did not take its first lead of the set until 25-24 when Michael Dean put away an overpass.

But the Trojans fought off set point on a kill by Mierzwa, survived a set point down 29-28 when Lyons hit the ball out, then won Game One on a Poortinga kill followed by another Lyons hitting error.

Game Two was less dramatic. The Trojans broke a 4-4 tie with a 14-7 run with senior outside hitter Tom Sarver contributing five of his seven kills. The 6-5 Poortinga added four kills and four blocks in the second set.

“We work on middles a lot in practice,” Downers North setter Dan Gilbert, who finished with 22 assists, said. “We do a lot of one-on-one with setter and the middle and it really paid off. That was the key to winning the game today.

“Last year, they (Lyons) had a really big team. That was one of our big losses last year, so it’s kind of nice to bring it back to them this year.”

Dean led Lyons with 10 kills and Robert Watkins added six. Sophomore setter Elijah Medlock contributed 17 assists, all in Game One. The Lions were without senior setters Marko Kostich and Jake Bobrowski.

“We made a lot of adjustments because we had to,” Lyons coach Joann Pyritz said. “We either had a sophomore setter in the game or a junior setter. Typically, we don’t start both of those kids. But they tried to do what we asked and we tried to be a strategic as we possibly could with what we had.

“I thought Dean had a good game. He really tried to follow our team plan and tried to make a difference. He was probably the most productive player on the floor. It’s too bad. I hate to give up a conference game, especially since we play each other just once. But that’s the way it is.”

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