Improved bond lifts North Shore to new heights

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Members of the North Shore Country Day girls volleyball team did not hold back their emotions after scoring the final point in their regional title game against Chicagoland Jewish. There were screams, hugs and a few tears of joy.

The Raiders had just defeated Chicagoland Jewish 25-16, 25-16 on Oct. 31 to achieve two firsts — the regional crown and a trip to the sectional semifinal.

“Once we saw that ball go into the net and then hit the floor on the other side, everything just went slow-motion,” said North Shore senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Johnson. “That was the greatest moment of our entire season.”

However, the Raiders’ run ended shortly thereafter. They lost to St. Francis de Sales 25-21, 25-12 in the Class 1A Harvest Christian Academy Sectional semifinal on Nov. 5.

“It was a team they could beat,” third-year coach Kelly Keporos said of the loss to St. Francis. “It was a combination of nerves and just never experiencing sectionals and that level of play before.”

Tears also followed this game, but for a different reason.

“At the end we all huddled up and we were all crying. I even was crying. It was very emotional,” Keporos said. “I even got a couple emails and texts from the players being like, ‘I’m so sad that it’s over. It’s weird not going to practice.’ I feel the same way.”

This year’s squad differed from previous seasons in that it came together as a family, said Johnson, one of the Raiders’ two captains and a driving force behind the newfound unity.

“Last year, I know a lot of people were intimidated and felt like they couldn’t even talk to the other people outside of the volleyball court,” said Johnson, who earned all-conference honors.

“So we tried to socialize with them more and go up to them in the hallway and say, ‘Hey, how’s your day going? How are classes? Is there anything that’s bothering you? Is there anything you want to talk about?’ Just stuff like that. And we could tell there was a huge difference.”

The effort resulted in a 9-3 regular-season record and achievements that will be remembered for years to come.

“I was talking with the other seniors, and we were just saying that when we come back for our 10-year or 20-year reunion, we (will) look up on that board and see, under regionals, the first year is 2013 and we’ll know that was us,” Johnson said. “It was an incredible feeling.”

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