SKOKIE — Niles West notched its best win of the season last week against its biggest rival.
Freshman Eleni Balourdos was right in the middle of it all.
The rookie setter passed out 26 assists in the 20-25, 25-20, 25-17 win over Niles North on Sept. 11. Balourdos connected with senior outside hitter Olivia Rusek for two kills in the final four points.
“I was almost crying,” Balourdos said after the victory, which avenged an earlier loss to the Vikings at New Trier’s tournament. “This is such a good experience. I feel like I am getting better with every game.”
Balourdos is one of several new starters for the Wolves. Rusek, who is verbally committed to Miami (Ohio), is the only returning starter.
“We’ve grown up quickly,” said Niles West coach Stacy Metoyer, whose team improved to 5-4 overall. “For a freshman to set all the way through, for every rotation, is rare. She’s really come in and done a great job.
“I thought we would experience more growing pains.”
Along with Balourdos, first-year starters Keiann Williams, a junior, and Dominique Krason, a sophomore, also contributed to the win. Krason totaled eight kills, while Williams finished with four blocks.
But Metoyer said Rusek remains the backbone of the team. She had 19 kills, 12 digs and three blocks.
Balourdos said she’s lucky to have such a talented player on her side. It makes her job that much easier.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “I will set her all day long. It doesn’t even matter if the other team knows it.”
Balourdos, who plays club ball for Niles-based Energy Volleyball Club, came on Metoyer’s radar during the offseason. The coach said she liked Balourdos’ hands and mentality.
“She’s very mature,” Metoyer said. “She listens well. She plays more like a junior or a senior than a freshman.”
Balourdos said she figured to play on varsity, but she admitted she didn’t expect to be successful so soon.
“Honestly, I had no idea what it was going to be like, but it was something I had worked hard for,” she said. “I am getting more and more confident, and we are gelling more as a team.”