Benet has been searching for an identity after losing captain Ricky Gevis to a potentially season-ending injury.
The loss of the Loyola-bound Gevis, a 6-11 senior right side hitter, has forced Benet coach Amy Van Eekeren to experiment with a variety of lineups and playing styles.
It is an ongoing adjustment, but the Redwings may have found a way forward after routing host Nazareth 25-15, 25-21 on Wednesday in East Suburban Catholic Conference action in La Grange Park.
“[Gevis] had 82 kills in the Marist tournament, so it’s a big loss to the team,” Van Eekeren said. “However, we’re finding our identity. We’re working on some lineups, we’re trying a few different positions for people so each match right now is a challenge, but I really think if we keep working on things in practice we can continue to improve as a team.”
The Redwings switched their offense from a 5-1 attack to a 6-2, inserting Jackson Van Eekeren into the lineup at setter to join fellow sophomore Ben Mazza. They ran the 6-2 at times during Tuesday’s loss to Joliet Catholic before going to it full-time against Nazareth.
The switch seemed to work as the Redwings (14-6, 2-2) came out on fire, racing to an 18-6 lead behind the tough serving led by Mazza, who capped the run with a pair of aces.
“We needed to do that,” Amy Van Eekeren said. “We played inconsistent last night so we need to get our team playing aggressive and playing smart at all times.”
The Redwings did so as Mazza had 10 assists, two aces and two kills, while Jackson Van Eekeren added 13 assists.
“We were able to get our momentum as soon as we could, which helped because we made all of our serves,” Mazza said. “That was big because that helped us to keep the energy up and we kept going.”
The Redwings understandably found it hard to keep going when Gevis went down. They have played 11 matches without him and have accepted that he may not return.
“He’s kind of our glue,” Mazza said. “Losing him was kind of a hard thing to deal with but we just tried to think about it logically. Like we took all the kills that we had before he left and now we all just try to pick up one or two to not put all the load on one person.”
That’s what the Redwings did against the Roadrunners. Mark Schuessler led the way with eight kills and Josh Martinez had consecutive kills to tie the second set at 7-7, after which they never trailed. Scott Kleiser also had a pair of kills and Garrett Metzger delivered the clinching kill off an assist by Mazza, who doesn’t mind sharing setting duties with Jackson Van Eekeren.
“I like running the 6-2 because I get to hit,” Mazza said. “It’s a fun position for me and Jackson has done a great job. He’s really stepped up.”
Seniors Will Cullen and Dan Hulbert led Nazareth (11-2, 1-2), which has lost two straight after starting 11-0, the fastest start in school history.
“These kids work hard,” Nazareth coach Thomas Malesky said. “They were excited about that start, but now we’re in conference play and it’s a little different.
“Yesterday’s match [a three-set loss to St. Viator] was really grueling. We were a step behind today. Now I don’t know if we would have beat this team anyway, but it would have been a little different.”